GREAT BRITAIN'S WITHDRAWAL FROM THE
PERSIAN GULF 1968-1971:
AN ANALYSIS OF THE POLICY AND THE PROCESS
David James McMunn
r ,.-y • n
GREAT BRITAIN'S WITHDRAWAL FROM THE PERSIAN
GULF 1968-1971: AN ANALYSIS OF THE POLICY
AND THE PROCESS
submitted to the Faculty of the
Graduate School of Georgetown University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
Master of Arts
David James McMunn, E.A,
January 1974 ,
The. 3 ' I
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I BRITAIN'S "SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP" WITH
THE PERSIAN GULF SHAIKHDOMS AND HER
DECISION TO END THE TREATY SYSTEM 1
The Problem 1
Foundations of the Treaty System 3
The Modern Era 7
Administrative Organization 9
The Deepening British Involvement 10
Formation of The Trucial Oman Scouts 13
The Role of Britain's Armed Forces in
The Persian Gulf 16
Indigenous Organizational Development
in the Shaikhdom 18
The Treaty System in the 1960 20
The International Arena 22
The Decision to Withdraw 24
Internal Dissention 29
The Labor Government Defense Policy
The Decision Postponed 35
The Decision Announced 37
Reaction in Britain 41
The Point of Departure 42
II BRITISH WITHDRAWAL FROM THE GULF WHILE
UNDER THE LABOR GOVERNMENT (JANUARY 1968-
JUNE 1970) 44
Initial Reaction to the Decision to
The Federation of Arab Emirates Form 48
Resolution of the Bahrain Issue 53
British Policy Toward the Federation 61
Divisions Within the Federation 67
The Willoughby Defense Review 71
Composition of the Federation 77
The Conservative Party's Position 81
III EXECUTION OF WITHDRAWAL UNDER THE
CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT (JUNE 1970-
DECEMBER 1971) 84*
The Government Changes 84
Sir Alec Up The Gulf * 87
Sir William Luce Appointed 89
Sir William Up The Gulf 93
The Policy Change '. 95
The Conducive Milieu *. 99
Regional Detente: The Islands 103
Regional Detente : The Arabs 114
IV ESTABLISHING THE SUCCESSOR STATES 119
The Federation Founders 120
The Retrocession of Legal Jurisdiction 127
The Shaikhdoms Assume Responsibility for
Their Foreign Affairs 130
Governmental Institutions 132
Security Affairs 139
Great Britain's Security Role 147
Trucial Omal Scouts 151
The Exchange of Notes 152
V THE ASSESSMENT 156
Securing British Interests 156
The Withdrawal Policy 157
The Pursuit of British Interest 159
The Accomplishments 160
The Final Score 166
Sources Consulted « 169
Great Britain announced her impending withdrawal
from the Persian Gulf while I was resident on Bahrain,
assigned as a staff officer to the U.S. Commander,
Middle East Force. At the time neither myself nor my
neighbors, whether British or Bahraini , seemed particu-
larly impressed by that news. Perhaps in early 1968
none of us really believed it would happen. Of course
In this belated effort to understand the policy
and process of the British withdrawal as it occurred
from 196 8 to 1971, I have come to the realization of
its profound significance, both to Britain and to the
states of the Gulf. I found those brief four years of
intense activity to be no island in time, but rather a
critical phase in the continuum of western society's
interaction with the peoples of the Middle East. In
this broader perspective, the withdrawal policy and
process was as much an extension of the past as a
transition for the future.
My new awareness chiefly derives from insights
provided by generous men, diplomats and scholars. Of
course I alone am responsible for the views expressed
in this work.
Sir William Luce and Sir Geoffry Arthur were
especially helpful. Mr. Anthony Reeve's advice and
assistance was invaluable. My mentor in every sense of
that word was Professor John S. Badeau. To him I owe
the unrepayable debt of student to teacher. To these
men and to the others who helped me in so many ways ,
I express my sincere appreciation.
A Note on Transliteration from Arabic to
English. In the following pages, certain Arabic names
and words have been transliterated into English. No
systematic procedure was employed in the process,
except to adopt the most common usages and spellings
accepted by the sources .
BRITAIN'S "SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP" WITH THE PERSIAN
GULF SHAIKHDOMS AND HER DECISION TO END
THE TREATY SYSTEM
In January 1968, the British Government
announced its intention to withdraw its military forces
from the Persian Gulf within four years. This decision
signalled a dramatic policy shift, and came as a dis-
concerting surprise to the Rulers of the shaikhdoms
that had shared a "special relationship" with Her
Majesty's Government for nearly one and one-half cen-
turies . Not only had the British been treaty bound to
manage all external affairs for Bahrain, Qatar and the
Trucial States, but London's Political Residents and
Agents had advised the leaders of those Gulf depen-
dencies in virtually all areas of governmental adminis-
tration. Now that association was to be terminated
within four years and the shaikhdoms would be left on
their own^ The situation raised the question; how
would Great Britain continue to pursue her national
interests in the region, while adapting to her changed
international relationship with the Persian Gulf
States? This study seeks to identify her interests,
review the measures taken to protect them after the
disengagement, and to gauge the results of Britain's
withdrawal procedure in that context.
The diplomatic and military officials at White-
hall had to implement the 1968 decision. Transcendent
national interests were readily apparent to them. The
mundane realities of domestic, regional and inter-
national politics that also applied were not. Yet the
manner in which those men contended with and resolved
the many quandaries confronted in the course of with-
drawal deeply influenced the Gulf Great Britain's
forces left behind.
In 1973, fourteen months after the formal
British departure, a U.S. Congressman noted:
. . . never before in the history of mankind
have so many wealthy industrialized, mili-
tarily powerful and large states been at the
potential mercy of small, independent, and
potentially unstable states which will pro-
vide, for the forseeable future, the fuel of
To understand the process through which Britain tried
1 Lee Hamilton, Vital Speeches 39:8 (1 February
1973): 239. Reprint of speech given on 11 January
1973 before the U.S. House of Representatives.
to prepare her Protectorates for that heady status, the
pre-1968 Treaty System with Gulf will be described.
Emphasis is placed on its modern development and
character. The rationale for the British decision to
terminate that durable and profitable system will then
be examined. Against this background, the withdrawal
policy and process of Her Majesty's Government will be
analyzed, identifying specific diplomatic, military
and administrative challenges under both Labor and a
Conservative Party leadership. Finally the performance
will be assessed, actual accomplishments appraised,
and the long-term service to Great Britain's national
interests in the Gulf analyzed.
Foundations of the Treaty System
Before examining the policy and process of
British withdrawal from the Gulf, it is necessary to
explain Great Britain's role there prior to 1968. It
began in conjunction with the European trade expansion
from the sixteenth century onwards, from which the
British East India Company emerged in the late
Eighteenth century. It was the foremost foreign
interest operating along the Persian Gulf litteral.
The European rivalries had coincided with conflicts
between Ottoman, Persian and Czarist Russian empires.
Equally pertinent was the burgeoning Wahhabi revolu-
tion that swept the Arabian peninsula. The combined
impact of the various confrontations had generated a
reassertion of the indigenous Arab presence in the
Gulf. That appeared as "piracy" to British eyes. Al-
ready anxious about Napoleon's eastward and Russian
southern ambitions, a series of East India Company
officials had adopted an increasingly hard line toward
any threat to British India. The relatively minor
commercial impact of the Arab "pirates" thus assumed
political significance, and several punitive expedi-
tions were launched against them during the first two
decades of the Nineteenth Century. These culminated
with the forced signing of the General Treaty for the
Cessation of Plunder and Piracy in March 1820. This
initiated what came to be called the Trucial or Treaty
^These fears precipitated a series of diplomatic
maneuvers in the Gulf, beginning with the Anglo-Omani
qualnamah of 1798, see J. C. Hurewitz, Diplomacy in the
Near and Middle East: A Diplomatic Record , I (New
York: Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1956), p. 64, for text.
J. B. Kelly, Britain and the Persian Gulf: 1795-1880
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), details the process.
Text of Treaty contained in C. 0. Aitchison,
A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads . . .
II (Delhi: Govt of India, 1933), p. 245.
System in the Gulf. Donald Hawley captures the essence
of that Anglo-Arab relationship by designating this
the first commandment: "thou shalt not commit piracy
against British shipping." Thirty-three years later,
the second commandment was embodied in another British-
prescribed treaty: "thou shalt not commit piracy
against each other." In 1892, the trilogy was com-
pleted as London decreed, "thou shalt not deal with
any foreign power except the British Government."
Throughout the Nineteenth Century this deepening Gulf
involvement reflected primarily the European continental
rivalries. It occurred despite a conscious effort by
British officials to avoid being caught up in Arab
internal affairs. Sir John Lawrence, Viceroy in India,
exemplified that attitude in a letter to his Bombay
Governor in 1866. He wrote:
If I have any influence on . . . policy, I
should advise that we interfere as little as
may be possible in the affairs of the Arab
tribes on the seaboard, and of course still
less with those of the tribes of the
interior . . .5
^Donald Hawley, The Trucial States (London:
Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1970), p. 18.
5 Ravinder Kumar, India and the Persian Gulf
Region, 1858-1907 (London! Asia Publishing House,
1965) , p. 39.
Lord Palmerston later defended that policy this way:
"Turkey is as good a guardian of the route to India as
any Arab would be." 6 But such blithe reliance on the
sick man of Europe proved to be untenable. In 1871 ,
the Pasha of Baghdad dispatched an anti-Saudi expedi-
tion onto the Arabian peninsula, requiring Britain to
come to the aid of her threatened clients at Bahrain
and Oman. 7 Later in the century, a rising Germany
launched an aggressive ' Drang nach Osten ' with an
attempt to terminate the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway at
Kuwait. That brought in the Royal Navy, the messianic
imperialist Lord Curzon, and a secret Anglo-Kuwait
agreement that even further ensconsed Great gritain in
the Gulf. 8 By the end of the century, the Treaty
System had been formalized.
Maritime treaties had been supplemented with
political arrangements, and ultimately economic con-
cessions were granted, giving Britain preferential
^Elizabeth Monroe, Britain ' s Moment in the
Middle East 1914-1956 (London: Chatto & Windus , 19 64),
R. Bayly Winder, Saudi Arabia in the Nineteenth
Century (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1965), pp.
See George Kirk, A Short History of the Middle
East , 6th ed. (London: Methuen, 1966), p. 93. Also
treatment in the quest for oil. The Rulers of the
Trucial States, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain had surren-
dered their sovereign rights to
1. establish diplomatic relations with any
2. negotiate treaties with any foreign power
I 3. cede territory without British approval
4. cede mineral or oil exploratory rights
without British approval. 9
Britain's role in the Gulf, created in response
to diverse and seemingly isolated incidents, gradually
became an important underpinning for her empire.
The Modern Era
Ironically, the Treaty System outlasted its
raison d'etre, for India secured her independence in
see Hurewitz, op. cit. , I, pp. 218-219, for treaty
J Times (London) (Special Report: Britain and
the Gulf) , 16 December 1971, p. II. (Husain al
Baharra) . Also see H. al Baharra, The Legal Status of
the Arabian Gulf States (London: Manchester Union
Press, 1968), for extensive treatment of the Treaty
System's legal aspects. An interesting note, Sir
Percy Cox actually had secured a similar relationship
with Abdul Aziz ibn Saud in 1915, but this did not
last. See J. C. Hurewitz , Diplomacy in the Near and
Middle East: A Documentary Record 1914-1956 , Vol.
II (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1956),
1948. That the "removal of the hub" did not lead "to ^
an immediate reconsideration of the role of the
spokes," as Phillip Darby has noted, can be traced to
a combination of inertia, and more tangibly, to oil. 10
Whitehall tended to justify its continued presence in
the Persian Gulf after World War II strategically,
tying it to the "unexplored British commitment" in the
Indian Ocean that formed the "starting point and not
the subject of analysis." 11 The oil was no mere
rationalization. Since 1932-, when the first
commercially-producing well was brought in on
Bahrain, 1 ^ Britain's relations with the shaikhs had
been geared to that highly profitable and industrially
essential commodity. World War II had intervened,
postponing commensurate administrative realignments.
Only afterwards, in 1946, could the British Government
remove the shaikhdoms from their Government of India's
10 British Defense Policy East of Suez 1947-1968
(London: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 9.
n Ibid., p. 57.
Benjamin Shwadran, The Middle East, Oil and
the Great Powers, 19 59 , 2nd ed. (New York: Council
for Middle Eastern Affairs Press, 1959), p. 374.
"zone of influence." They were first placed under
H. M. India Office. Later, the Commonwealth Relations
Office absorbed the India Office in 1947, and in 1948
Britain's activities in the Persian Gulf were finally
brought directly under Foreign Office perview.^-^
The Foreign Office position in the Protectorates
was largely formulated and supervised by the Political
Residency on Bahrain, and exercised through Political
Agencies in Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait (until 1961) , Doha
and (from 1957) Abu Dhabi. 14 The Political Resident
carried ambassadorial rank, administered extra-
territorial jurisdiction over all non -Moslems and over
Moslem subjects of Commonwealth countries, and was
Commander-in-Chief of the Trucial Oman Scouts. His
responsibilities touched every aspect of Britain's role
in the Gulf, including education, monetary exchange,
transportation, and communication. Sir Rupert Hay,
who was eight years the Political Resident during the
Hawley, p. 168.
See J. B. Kelly, Britain and the Persian Gulf:
1795-1880 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 911.
These offices were descended from East India Company
factory agents, which had been located in Bushire,
1950s, contended that oil transactions occupied most
of his official time. He "closely watched" all nego-
to make sure that nothing is decided which
will seriously affect the position of the
Rulers or the British Government. . ."
In essence, the Political Resident was a coordinator
on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. Routine direct
dealings with individual Rulers were handled by the
Political agents, whose "close personal contact main-
tained /with7 the Rulers is the outstanding feature of
the British position in the Persian Gulf." 15 These
men controlled the right of foreign businessmen to
enter the area through the device called "N.O.C." (No
Objection Certificate) , as Britain performed even
consular and visa functions for her protectorates. 6
The Deepening British Involvement
All of these officers were ostensibly in place
to promote Maritime Peace, but the modern technological
complexities impinged on that uncomplicated ideal,
Bandar Abbas, and Basra.
15 Hay, p. 20.
^■^ Joseph Malone, Arab Lands of Western Asia
(Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.,
1973) , p. 235. _j
even more than had the political-military considera-
tions mentioned above (see page 6 ) . As early as
1864, the first telegraph lines were installed, 17 and
the replacement of flying boats by land planes required
Civil Air Agreements between Great Britain and the
shaikhdoms by the 1930s. Then too, the discovery of
oil; in commercial quantity furthered the landward
penetration by British interests. Former Gulf Politi-
cal Officer, Donald Hawley, wrote,
Exploration was held up by the war but, after
it, British attention to the progress of the
oil companies necessitated a far closer
interest in internal affairs than had pre-
viously been paid. 1 **
That "closer interest" meant protecting oil ex-
ploration parties from Bedouin potshots and marauding
tribal warriors, and greater attention to territorial
disputes that now rested on the enormous sub-surface
wealth. 19 Between 1945 and 1948, the interior was even
more unsettled by a war between the Bani Yas shaikhdoms
17 See Christina Phelps Harris, "The Persian Gulf
Submarine Telegraph of 1364," The Geographical Journal
135 (June 1969): 169-190.
18 Hawley, p. 173.
Times (London), 15 November 1971, p. 11.
(Charles Douglas Home) .
of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The d'ispute was basically
territorial, exacerbated by intra-tribal animosities
that spanned more than a century. 20 This typified the
traditional unrest that also pitted the maritime
Quawasim of Ras al Khaima and Sharjah against one
another, or against their desert-oriented neighbors, in
what can best be described as a fluid system of
alliances. The Omani tribes had no monopoly on con-
flicts. Qatar's territorial dispute with Abu Dhabi was
also serious, but that was eclipsed by their Zubarra
dispute with Bahrain. The famed advisor to the al
Khalifa's for more than a quarter century, Sir Charles
Belgrave, insisted that this Zubarra question "took up
more time and presented more difficulties than any of
the problems with which I had to deal. "21 Because of
oil, Sir Charles' countrymen in the Foreign Office
would no longer indulge in the luxury of non-involve-
ment. 22 After 194 8, some "profound rethinking on
20 John Duke Anthony, "The Union of Arab Amirates , "
Middle East Journal 26 (Summer 1972) :279.
21 Sir Charles Belgrave, Personal Column: Auto-
biography (London: Hutchinson, 1960), p. 152.
22patrick Bannerman , Foreign Office Research
Department, interview held in his Whitehall office,
London, 25 October 1973.
Britain's part" followed the Pplitical Resident's
failure to halt the fighting that brought Shaikh
Rashid, leader of Dubai's army (and later Vice Presi-
dent of the United Arab Emirates) , against Shaikh
Zayed, leader of Abu Dhabi forces (and later President
of the UAE) .
Formation of the Trucial Oman
The means to enforce British policy was lacking,
and this could no longer be tolerated. The stakes were
too high. The decision was taken to create a con-
stabulary, the Trucial Oman Levies, by seconding
British and Jordanian officers from General Glubb's
Arab Legion. This was to provide an "effective right
arm" for Britain's political authorities. The Levies
would protect the geologists and guard the peace that
was now a prerequisite for furthering Britain's
economic interests in the Gulf.
What changed the Levies from a mobile gendar-
merie into a small army was "Buraimi." "The
23 Hawley, p. 174.
24*rhe term "Buraimi" is used here because of its
popular usage in referring to the dispute. In fact,
the Buraimi Oasis includes nine villages, four in Oman
and five in Abu Dhabi. Al Ain is the chief Abu Dhabi
positions of the Governments of Great Britain (on be-
half of Abu Dhabi and Oman) and Saudi Arabia are
elaborated in the "Memorials," both submitted for liti-
gation before an International Tribunal at Geneva. 25
To summarize the incident, there had been a long-
standing disagreement over control of the oasis between
the Sultan of Muscat, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and the
King of Saudi Arabia. This flared up with the break-
down of ongoing negotiations in London and Dammam,
between British (on behalf of their clients) and Saudi
officials. The local Saudi governor, Amir Turki ibn
Ataishan, unexpectedly occupied the Buraimi village of
Hamara in 1952. For three years both sides feinted
and threatened, though they eventually agreed to inter-
national arbitration of the problem.
Again oil lay at the proverbial bottom of the
territorial dispute. ARAMCO and IPC were competing for
drilling rights over what had been a refuge oasis and
village and a major population center.
25 See Arbitration Concerning Buraimi and the
Common Frontier between Abu Dhabi and Sauid Arabia:
Memorial Submitted by the Government of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland (London: HMSO, 195 5) . The Saudi
side was presented in Arbitration for the Settlement
of the Territorial Dispute between Muscat and Abu
Dhabi on the One Side and Saudi Arabia on the Other:
Memorial of the Government of Saudi Arabia , 3 vols. ,
' " ~1
watering hole for the nomadic tribes of varied and
fluctuating political allegience. In 1955, amid
mutual recriminations, and some blatent bribery
attempts by the over-zealous Saudis, the Belgium Resi-
dent of the International Tribunal finally resigned
in disgust. British Prime Minister Anthony Eden then
ordered the Trucial Oman Levies (later called Scouts)
to occupy the oasis in October 1955.
In 1951, there had been only two hundred men.
Now, five hundred strong, they forcibly evicted the
Saudi forces. By 1968, the Trucial Oman— Scouts would-
number 1,600 local tribesmen, led by thirty-one
seconded British and twenty-nine Arab, (mostly
Jordanian) officers. Backed by evident fire-power,
they fulfilled their charter, acting as peacemakers
and lawyers in disputes over well rights, goat-grazing
and frontiers. ^ Behind them Britain's land, sea and
Vol. I: Text, Cairo:n.p., 1955.
26 See J. J. Malone, Arab Lands , pp. 153-159, and
219-220. Hawley, pp. 186-193. Wendell Phillips,
Oman: A History (London: Longmans, 1967) offers
Oman's perspective, and Leonard Mosley, Power Play:
Oil in the Middle East (New York: Random House, 1973),
pp. 235-246, has overview.
^"Going, going. . . . , " The Economist (Special
Survey of the Arabian Peninsula) (6 June 1970) :34.
air forces stood ready.
The Role of Britain's Armed Forces
in the Persian Gulf ; Modern Era
In 1952, the old fort at Fujairah had been
bombarded by a Royal Navy man-of-war to force the re-
lease of slaves. 28 Elsewhere, Britain's air power had
to quell local disturbances by pin-point
attacks on local points such as forts,
supply bases, or buildings occupied by
dissident groups or local dignitaries. 2 9
In 1957, H. M. Middle East Command was excluded from a
massive defense cut-back, because the Government be-
lieved they "must at all times be ready to defend Aden
Colony and the Protectorates and the Territories on
the Persian Gulf. "3° Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd
reiterated Her Majesty's treaty obligation to protect
the shaikhdoms, ^1 a commitment that was quickly tested
28 Hay, p. 129.
29 Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary De-
bates (Commons), 5th series, vol. 542 (1955) :111.
3 Great Britain, Ministry of Defense, Statement
on Defense Estimates (Command 124) 3 April 1957, as re-
printed in Brassey's Annual: The Armed Forces Yearbook ,
1957 (London: Clower, 1957), p. 335.
3 *Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons), 5th series, vol. 5731 (1957) :107.
' ' ~1
in the remote highlands of Oman. There, a full-scale
revolt broke out on the Jabel Akhdar in 1957. This
led to the permanent provision of British advisors to
the Sultan's Armed Forces, a consequential move as
will be discussed in Chapter Four. Though the limits
of conventional power were revealed in Oman, the revolt
was! suppressed. 32 Advocates of increasing British
forces in the Gulf cited the Anglo-Iranian showdown of
1951, and, ten years later, Britain's defense of newly
independent Kuwait, to vindicate the military
"presence'. In both cases the imminent threat of
British arms had preserved access to the precious
petroleum. Moreover, persistent Persian claims to
Gulf islands under British protection, including the
most advanced of the shaikhdoras, Bahrain, was con-
sidered ample justification for even greater troop
levels in the area. 33 By 1961, 8,000 British military
personnel were stationed in the Middle East, 3 ^ and up
32 Darby, pp. 130-132.
33 John Marlowe, "Arab-Persian Rivalry in the
Persian Gulf," Royal Central Asian Society Journal 51
Times (London) , 16 May 1963.
to 5,000 of them were placed uhder then Political
Resident, William Luce, to defend newly independent
Kuwait. 35 After withdrawal from Aden in 1968, there
were still 6,500 "studiedly inconspicuous" British
military men in the Gulf. 36
Indigenous Organizational Development
in the Shaikhdom
Another major British innovation of the early
1950s was the Trucial States Council. Therein the
Rulers of the seven Trucial States met semi-annually
to discuss matters of mutual interest and advise on
expenditures of Britain's Trucial Development Fund.
From its relatively inauspicious beginning, the forum
evolved to become the nucleus of federal planning,
though "it was never part of Britain's policy to
attempt to force them in this direction.""" By 1965,
the Council's chairmanship, always held by the
Political Agent, was relinquished to the Ruler of Ras
al Khaima, no doubt a compromise choice, and British
35 New York Times , 4 July 1961.
36 "Going, going. . . ."p. 34.
37 Hawley, p. 178.
influence in subsequent Council deliberations waned.
Under the Council, Rulers had also established a
Trucial States Development Office (TSDO) to administer
development projects, including piping water and
electricity, road building and educational projects.
Still the TSDO was less an indigenous than an external
agency. ° The United Kingdom provided its British
acting-Director, and most of its funding, (*>1
million in 1968). j9 The Foreign Office's Overseas
Development Administration also contributed £200,000
toward a Gulf Technical College on Bahrain. In addi-
tion, London supplied the school's B60,000 annual
running expenses, and the salaries of sixteen British
expatriates teaching there. From the British Ministry
of Defense, costs for sea, air and meteorological
facilities on Bahrain alone exceeded Bl million and
their annual maintenance was borne entirely by the
British taxpayer. 40 RAF and army expenditures in
38 Times (London) (Special Report) 16 December
1970, p. III.
39 K. G. Fenelon, The Trucial States: A Brief
Economic Survey 2nd rev. ed. (Beirut: Khayats, 1969) ,
4Q Times (London) , (Special Report: Britain and
the Gulf), 16 December 1970, p. IV (Ralph Izzard) .
Sharjah were also considerable and are not reflected
as direct British financial support to the shaikhdoms.
Further mitigating the impact of the Trucial States
Development Office were large funds expended uni-
laterally by third countries. These included Kuwait's
Fund for Arab Economic Development, Saudi Arabian aid,
and even projects undertaken by individual shaikhs
outside the federal concept, particularly Abu Dhabi's
and Qatar's rulers.
The Treaty System in the 1960s
By 1968, the British role had clearly been
diluted, the inevitable result of modernization and an
unprecedented economic bonanza. But it was neither
insignificant nor inhibiting. Sir William Luce,
Political Resident from 1960 to 1966, is accused by
some of following
the time-honored British policy, where Arabs
are concerned, of never interfering with the
local rulers except to encourage rivalries
between them — this tactic being sufficient
to keep them divided and therefore unlikely
to kick the British out. 4 l
This accusation ignores two fundamental facts. First,
for generations Gulf Arabs had been conditioned to
Mosley, p. 458. _l
intrigue, to hate, to distrust each other. They
ruled by siasi , i.e. political machinations, tribal
wars, assassinations and threats. No encouragement
was needed to maintain that tradition. Perhaps the
insulation of Britain's presence did prolong this, but
even when united and friendly relations prevailed, the
Rulers showed no inclination to dissolve their British
conncections . Second, the "special relationships" did
not give Britain the subtle manipulative power implied
by the accusation. Upon his appointment to the Gulf,
Sir William Luce, experienced in colonial administra-
tion in the Sudan and at Aden, was himself surprised
at the statutory limits on a Political Resident
attempting to direct events under the Treaty System.
Even the British connivance in the depositions of
rulers was more in reaction to, than in direction of
extraordinary circumstances. "Britain's adviv.e was
ignored more often than not," 42 and increasingly so as
wealth and sophistication accrued to the shaikhs.
Yet both the British Government and the Arab Amirs
perceived an advantage in their evolving, still
Sir William Luce, interview held at the Bath
Club, London, 24 October 1973.
symbiotic association. *3 '
The International Arena
As with most political issues, however, the
"special relationship" in the Persian Gulf was contro-
versial. Great Britain had survived the ravages of
World War II, bombed and battered. Her people had
nearly seen foreign domination from the other side,
and they knew it. Economically, her industries
tottered, while her imperial veins seemed to sap rather
than strengthen the homeland-. New ideas of nationalism
and self-government had permeated her colonies. At
home, many argued for integration with Europe, even
as the heirs of Pitt and Palmers ton were subjected
abroad to a dreary litany of hastily-drawn consti-
tutions and flag-lowering ceremonies all across the
once mighty empire. In the Near East, the enervating
Palestinian question gave way to Nasser's Egypt,
culminating with the explosion of British frustrations
at Suez in 1956. Taken together, these bitter
4 ^Some negative aspects of Britain's limited
influence are documented by Martin Page, "Middle East
II: Persian Gulf," Atlantic 219 (April 1967):38-42.
Therein the deterioration of the traditional system of
rule by the Shaikhs is outlined, with its associated
political and social abuse of power, despite British
humanitarian advise. _j
realities seemed to isolate, to expose as an obsolete
anarchronism , the British position and policy in the
Persian Gulf as she entered the decade of the 1960s.
In the context of the Cold War, that same
position never seemed too necessary. As Harold Haskins
wrote in 1967:
That a Western power structure was needed
East of Suez was made apparent not so much by
the loss of positions of strength in the
Mediterranean, as by the easterly trend of
Egyptian designs under Soviet sponsorship,
Iraqi-Iranian clashes over navigation rights
in the Shatt-al-Arab, increasing restiveness
in Iran, and growing assertiveness of oil-
wealthy Persian Gulf shaikhdoms . . . 44
Harold Wilson, speaking before the House of Commons in
June of 1964, declared:
The peace-keeping role, which will over the
next generation be the main contribution of
this country to world affairs — peace-keeping
on behalf of the Commonwealth, of the Western
alliance and of the United Nations — will
mean a very big role for this country east of
Compared to the old imperial glories, however illusory
they may have been, this offered a sorry psychological
44 Harold Hoskins, "Changing of the Guard in the
Middle East," Current History , 52 (February 1967) :69.
45 Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons, 5th series, vol. 696 (1964):1403.
surrogate for the heavy burden that presence implied.
Still, the Labor Party leader had touched the mood of
his countrymen. Smitten by the 1963 rebuff by
Charles DeGaulle of their bid to join the Common
Market, Wilson's constituency emphasized the non-
European approach to British foreign policy.
The Decision to Withdraw
The elections of 1964 provide a convenient
watershed from which to begin an analysis of the de-
cision to withdraw from the Gulf. Both the Tory and
the Labor Party platforms reflected the national
predilection to look beyond the continent of Europe to
Britain's destiny. When Wilson's party won, the new
government was clearly intent upon "maintaining a
role — not merely a presence — along the former imperial
line to the East." 4 ** The new Prime Minister's assured
his countrymen that no economic constraints would
force him to relinquish "our world role . . . sometimes
called our "East of Suez" role . . . " The Economist
46 Hoskins, p. 70.
Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons) , 5th series, vol. 704 (1964) :
the British government apparently intends
to ask its allies for permission to regard
the Rhine Army as a part of a reserve that
can be switched to the Indian Ocean if need
The revitalized interest in British fortunes east of
Suez saw businessmen and diplomats alike involved in
an aggressive, updated version of the Drang nach Osten .
By December 1965, they had secured a $300 million
contract to provide Sauid Arabia a package air defense
system, outbidding their surprised American counter-
parts. This capped a "slow comeback in the Arab
world since the Anglo, French and Israeli attack on
Egypt in 1956. " 49
It appeared a new era of British influence had
dawned. It was therefore somewhat disconcerting to
find a pessimistic note in the 1965 Defense White
Paper, hinting at eventual force reductions in Europe
and east of Suez because of budgetary considerations.^
Reaction came swiftly. The Times editorialized that
48 "East of Suez, West of Suez," The Economist ,
114 (February 6, 1965): 512.
49 J. A. Morris, "Britain Beats U.S. on $300
Million Saudi Arms Deal," Washington Post (December 11,
1965), p. A15.
50 The Times (London), 14 February 1965, p. 1. _j
It would be politically irresponsible and
economically wasteful if our bases were
abandoned, while they were still needed to
promote peace in the areas concerned . . .
The influential daily stressed the unique contribution
to peace by Her Majesty's forces "in vast areas of the
world where no other country was able to assume the
same responsibility. "51 Defense Secretary Denis
Healey assured the House of Commons of his Government's
ongoing commitment to fund a large military force in
the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf:
I would point out that the justification of
our military presence east of Suez is not the
building of a wall against Communist. Nor
is it for the protection of selfish British
economic interests. It is essentially the
maintenance of peace and stability in parts
of the world where sudden withdrawal of
colonial rule has too often left the local
peoples unable to maintain stability without
some sort of external aid. 52
Yet, later in the same Parliamentary debate
over this, Labor's first comprehensive statement of
defense policy, Mr. Healey was pressed for details on
just how his ideas would be implemented. His answer
was revealing. Such matters could not be publicly
51 Ibid., p. 17.
52 Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons), 5th series, vol. 707 (1965) :1337-
53ibid., col. 1356. - 1
discussed, said the Defense Secretary, because of the
need for "not damaging either our security or weakening
the morale of our forces." Those men were "seriously
underequipped and under-manned," and further disclos-
ures in the White Paper could not improve, but cer-
tainly could jeopardize, their situation. 53 Thoughtful
listeners may well have begun to doubt the real
capabilities of the British military in the Gulf no
matter how noble their proclaimed purpose for being
A more fundamental question than tactical
readiness was also raised at this time. Could the
military stationed east of Suez positively affect
British interests under any forseeable circumstances,
regardless of financial costs? As Elizabeth Monroe
had observed, they had hardly stemmed the anti-British
tide of Arab Nationalism and non-alignment, nor had
discrimination against the oil companies,
... as was proved at Abadan. It is the
need for steady income, with which to pay
for the benefits that they have promised
their peoples, that prompts all up-to-date
54 Elizabeth Monroe, "British Bases in the
Middle East: Assets or Liabilities," International
Affairs, 42 (January 1965): 27.
producing countries to do all they can to
keep production up, sales steady and prices
as high as possible in a hotly competitive
Given such cogent reasons for altering the
status quo, several alternative defense policies had
been suggested. Only six months prior to his
assuming the Prime Ministry, Harold Wilson told a uni-
versity audience in Bridgeport, Connecticut, that al-
though "we must effectively fulfill our commitments in
Europe, we felt that there would be a need to transfer
naval budgetary resources from strategic nuclear to
conventional strength." 55 This seemed to have been
accepted in November 1965. Britain announced the pur-
chase of four Indian Ocean islands (Diego Garcia,
Farquhar, Aldabra and Des Roches, from Mauritius and
the Seychelles) to form the British Indian Ocean
Territory (B.I.O.T.). Costing $8,400,000, the sparsely
populated new holdings were to provide a naval base for
Royal Navy aircraft carriers and submarines. A huge
strategic communications center was also proposed for
the idyllic tropical locale. Britain's action was
55 Quoted in "British Arms and the Switch Towards
Europe," Neville Brown, International Affairs 4 3
(July 1967) : 27.
Time , 86-21, 19 November 1965, p. 26. _j
hailed as "a reaffirmation of her interest in the
whole area east of Suez," from which the U.S. Defense
Department "strongly opposed any British pullout
. . ."" An indication as to the American desire for
a continuing British presence may be seen in the fact
that the U.S. picked up the tab for B.I.O.T., the U.S.
being the only western state with "the physical and
financial resources required . . ."58 clearly, B.I.O.T.
represented a new direction in British defense policy
east of Suez.
Within months of the B.I.O.T. announcement came
yet another manifestation of major policy changes.
Both the Navy Minister and the Lord of the Admiralty
(Sir William Luce's brother, David) resigned their
positions in January 1966. They objected to the
policies that were first published by their Ministry
in the 196 6 White Paper on Defense the following month.
Drastic cuts in military expenditures were proclaimed.
These included the phasing out of the fleet air arm
57 New York Times , 11 November 1965, p. 1.
58 Hoskins, "Changing of the Guard . . .," p.
by the 1970s. The rationale was allegedly economic. '
The defense policy of the future would mean:
Britain will not undertake major operations
of war except in cooperation with allies . . .
will not provide another country with military
assistance unless ... it provides us with
the facilities we need to make such assistance
effective in time . . . (and will) make no
attempt to maintain defense facilities in an
independent country against its will . . ..59
The highest naval officials did not leave simply
to protest the decision to build no more carriers. In-
stead, they believed that move to be "incompatible with
our sustaining a major military role east of Suez
. . ."60 Lord Mayhew called that presence "the prime
cause of insolvency" and chief obstacle to Britain's
joining the Common Market. "^l His objections sparked
a lively debate in Commons. The shadow Defense
Minister, Enoch Powell, demanded to know just how the
Labor Party proposed to fulfill its stated commitments,
considering the White Paper's sweeping reductions. He
reminded his colleagues that strategic land bases were
59 Great Britain, Ministry of Defense, The De-
fense Review , February 1966, Command 2901.
60 Brown, "British Arms and the Switch . . .,"
61 Christopher Mayhew, Britain's Role Tomorrow
(London: Hutchinson & Company, Ltd., 1967), pp.
fast disappearing, with Aden being the prime
example. ^2 That colony had been promised independence
along with a complete British withdrawal by 1968. Why
should British forces remain in the Persian Gulf?
His answer came the following day.
Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart argued that
the "main object of policy in the Middle East should
be the maintenance of stability . . . particularly
with regard to the . . . small states in the Persian
Gulf." Stewart added, "a number of other countries
benefit from it /T. e. stability in the Gulf 7 and do
not take part in the performance of the duty, but it
benefits us to such an extent that it would be foolish
for that or any other reason for us to throw the duty
aside." He had answered Mr. Powell and reidentified
the priorities for Labor's planners. Resources were
tight. Growing political restiveness in the Gulf, in
part aggravated* by Radio Cairo and given added
poignancy as British soldiers died in the streets of
Aden, argued strongly with Mayhew and Powell for
complete withdrawal. But the military presence
^ 2 Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons) 7 25, 5th Series, vol. 7 (1966) :
"benefits us to such an extent ..." In an eloquent
synthesis of the Government's perception of their
dilemma, Stewart ended his testimony by saying:
We are in the process, as it were, of moving
from a previous century to a newer kind of
world. Our task is to see both that the
movement is carried out and that we do not
restrict it by mere lack of vision, but also
that we do not prevent it by running away and
leaving a disturbed situation and a vacuum of
British policy-makers straddled the horns of
that dilemma another year. The 1967 annual Defense
Review noted that the "Political arrangements have
been made and the practical preparations are underway
. . .""4 The Economist termed it "more a working out
of decisions already taken than a statement of new
ones. "^^ Overseas defense expenditures had been cut
by over 47 million pounds, but Defense Minister Healey,
"in tribute to his persistence and ingenuity, kept
his options /to* maintain a major role east of Suez
or to integrate with NATO in Europe7 open . . . until
63 Ibid., col. 1945-1960.
64 Great Britain, Ministry of Defense, The
Defense Review , February 1967, Command 3203, p. 8.
The Economist, 18 February 1967, p. 589.
the future of British, and European, foreign policy
takes a clearer shape." 66
The Labor Government Defense Policy
Theoretically, the logic of this flexible
approach was sound. British foreign policy outside
Europe aimed "to foster developments which will enable
the local peoples to live at peace without the presence
of external forces." 67 This same lofty goal had ex-
plained their behavior in the past, but now assumed
an undefined recognition of the inevitability of a
Gulf withdrawal. As for Europe, Common Market para-
meters were also vague, and the Labor Government was
exerting all its energies to hold the uncommitted
positions. This is why the surprise White Paper of
July 1967 so profoundly shocked the observers of
British foreign policy. It seemed a tacit admission
of inability to* do what was so obviously "best."
According to the Defense Ministry, the July announce-
ment marked the end of a three-year review, "revising
Britain's overseas policy, formulating the role of
66 Ibid., p. 590.
67 Command 3203, p. 7.
military power to support it, and planning the forces
required to carry out this role." 6 ® It called for a
total withdrawal from bases in Singapore and Malaysia
by the mid 1970s, major reductions in the size and
cost of the defense establishment, and "foreshadowed
the end of Britain's military role in Asia east of
The 1967 Arab-Israeli June War may actually
have precipitated this abrupt conclusion of that
defense review. Not only had the sizeable British
military presence in the general area been totally
ineffective in preventing that conflict, but the
economic effects of that war on Great Britain were
already being recognized. '0 Informed speculation on
6 ®Great Britain, Ministry of Defense, Special
Supplementary Statement , July 1967, Command 3357, p.
69 Dana Schmidt, New York Times , 19 July 1967,
7Q Petroleum Press Service , XXXV (March 1968):
83. Due to the canal closure and various temporary oil
embargoes, the additional strain on Britain's balance
of payments reached $200 million in the last half of
1967. See also Arabia: When Britain Goes (London:
Fabian Society, 1967), p. 28, which lists the strong
objections of the influential Socialist wing of the
Labor Party of British forces remaining both east of
Suez and particularly in the Persian Gulf.
the cause of the policy switch ranged from acceptance
of the Government's economic explanations, to an edi-
torial in Le Monde which alleged that France's cross-
channel neighbor had "continental" ambitions. ^
Others cited more immediate circumstances. Neville
Brown felt it was the severence of the Peking-Jakarta
connection and the Indonesian 'confrontation' with
Malaysia that forced the fundamental policy reassess-
ment.^ 2 Harold Hoskins claimed the United States forced
the decision by advising their ally to close down,
"since they no longer served any purpose" in the Far
East. '^ B U t no one could deny that the slow rate of
growth in the British economy, coupled with continued
pressure against her balance of payments offered a
tremendous incentive to rethink defense policy.
The Decision Postponed
Another aspect of the July 1967 Command Paper
that stimulated speculation was the conspicuous
71 Le Monde (Paris), 20 July 1967, p. 1. Under
the editor's heading: "L' evolution vers 1' Europe."
Brown, "British Arms . . . ," p. 473.
Hoskins, "The Changing of the Guard . . .,"
absence of any reference to the Persian Gulf. Only
two weeks before the far-reaching policy statement
came out, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, George
Thompson, actually proposed military expansion in what
he termed that "cockpit of territorial rivalries."
He objected to any Gulf withdrawal, for it would leave
behjind "a dangerous vacuum which might well precipi-
tate . . . a great power confrontation." Echoing
the words of Defense Secretary Healey (see page 26),
Thompson averred that "Her Majesty's Government's aim
is to build up a stable regional balance of power
between the countries of the area, but to do that
takes time. "^ Still many stayed unconvinced of the
continuing validity of the Gulf policy, given the
departure of Britain's military from elsewhere east of
Suez. For example, the London Times attacked the
omission of Gulf force reductions in the 1967 report
as evading the v issue:
The recent events in the Middle East and
Britain's inability to influence them, make it
all the more urgent for Britain's military
position in the Persian Gulf to be considered
as searchingly as has been her position in the
Far East. 75
'^Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary De-
bates , (Commons), vol. 749 (1967): 2018.
75 Times (London), 19 July 1967, p. 1. - 1
The Decision Announced
Despite a steady stream of denials to the con-
trary, including high level reassurances to wary Gulf
shaikhs, the other shoe dropped in January 1968. The
Gulf was included in the overall British withdrawal
from east of Suez. Prime Minister Harold Wilson
went before Commons, head bowed, and made the announce-
ment to a stunned audience. No longer could Britain
support the commitments so long defended as necessary
for regional stability. He told his colleagues that
"a detailed and searching review of policy by the
Government in every major field of expenditure, with
no exceptions, on the basis that no spending program
could be sacrosanct, "^ 6 had been conducted. The
Prime Minister noted that cutbacks were also made in
Health and Welfare and Social Security, but there was
still little doubt where the Labor Government's new
priorities rested. As wilson concluded,
When in the past this nation has set out to
achieve the domestic objectives it has set
itself, we have been frustrated by an
endemic imbalance within the economy. If we
refuse to abandon these objectives — and we
do refuse — then the course we must take,
Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons), vol. 756 (1968): 1579.
however great the temporary cut, is to
remove the problem once and for all. 77
Mr. George Brown, Secretary of State for Foreign
Affairs, identified the crux of the British predicament:
"International power without economic strength is a
hollow aim. We have taken the defense decision for
the economic health of this country." 78 The February
1968 annual White Paper confirmed the Government's
policy reversal. The British military in the Gulf
would henceforth attempt to form "alternate arrange-
ments for stability." This was a euphemism for a
do-it-yourself defense program for the shaikhdoms. It
aimed at integrating the existing British-officered
Trucial Oman Scouts and local shaikhly guards into a
regional defense force for the proposed Union of Arab
Emirates. The Union was to federate the seven
Trucial States, Qatar and Bahrain. * Defending the
1968 White Paper, Denis Healey contradicted his earlier
statements and claimed that the July 1967 White Paper
77 Ibid., col. 1593.
78 Ibid., vol. 757 (1968): 730.
7 ^Great Britain, Ministry of Defense, Command
3927, p. 5, February 1968.
was the "real watershed in our post-war defense
policy." This Gulf decision supposedly "is one of
timing, not of principle . . ."80 chancellor of the
Exchequer, Roy Jenkins, was more candid in his assess-
ment of the decision. In a BBC speech following Mr.
Wilson's announcement, he admitted,
We are withdrawing more quickly from the Far
East and the Persian Gulf, and making big
consequential savings in defense expenditures.
We are recognizing that we are no longer a
Surely other than financial consideration in-
fluenced the British planners. Healey confessed that
there could even be some
cases in our imperial history /which7 might
make the presence of our force an irritant
rather than a stabilizing factor, particularly
in the Middle East, where the events of 1956
still cast a long shadow. 82
The increasingly untenable military and political
commitments, perhaps legitimate before the Second
World War, now faced "Asian, Arab and African
"Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary De-
bates , (Commons) , vol. 760 (1968) : 54.
SlExcerpt reprinted in the New York Times ,
17 January 1968, p. 14.
82 Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons), vol. 757, (1968): 622.
nationalism . . . which it was neither wise nor
possible for us to try to resist by force." 8 -* Yet
these factors had been present and recognized for over
twenty years, and do not adequately explain Labor's
sudden change of heart on Britain's special position in
the Gulf. Their country's sharply deteriorating
economic situation was new. In November 1967, the
balance of payment deficit hit the alarming level of
153 million pounds sterling. In partial reaction,
Prime Minister Wilson had devalued the British currency
from $2.80 to $2.40 (pound sterling exchange rate. 8 *
It is important to realize that the decision to with-
draw from the Gulf was taken in this economic crisis
atmosphere. As Phillip Darby put it:
. . . Just as the east of Suez role was
largely a product of the existing defense
system /standing after World War 11/, ulti-
mately the lack of resources rather than
intellectual reflection ensured its /i.e.
the east of Suez roleZ rejection. 85
83 Ibid., col. 620.
84 The Economist , 11 December 1967, p. 1117. For
an explanation of how the above mentioned impact of the
1967 June War contributed to this, see J. E. Hartshorn,
"Oil and the Middle East War," World Today , 24 (April
1968) : 154.
85 Darby, p. 334. Soviet view is presented by
D. Volsky, "On the Persian Gulf," New Times 5 (1968):
14 , and concurs with Darby ' s linkage of devaluation to
Reaction in Britain
Predictably, the Tory Party objected to Labor's
solution to Britain's fiscal crisis. Long defenders
of a strong defense position, they were appalled at
the cumulative impact of the February 1966, July 1967
and January 1968 White Papers. They saw what the
American editors of Business Week did when that
magazine noted that
any future British_military presense in
the Indian Ocean /appeared/ to be foreclosed
now, not only by Britain's decision to with-
draw forces but also by the cancellation
of its orders for fifty carriers. ^^
The Conservative Opposition argued, often using state-
ments uttered previously by Labor's own spokesmen,
that stability required a British force in the Gulf.
They cited the same ideals and lofty principles that
had been used to justify the previous policy and dis-
puted the Labor Government's claims of the financial
savings anticipated with a drawdown of forces. Even
the liberal British press rejected much of the Govern-
ment's economic rationale, while agreeing with the
°"Who fills the vacuum waste of Suez?" Business
Week , 2003 (20 January 1968), p. 31.
decision itself. As the New Statesman argued, the
controversial announcement "will rapidly be accepted
as inevitable and in due course as an act of states-
manship. (The fact that the Government took it for
the wrong reasons is neither here nor there, and will
soon be forgotten) ."87
The Point of Departure
The ensuing pages consider the policy and the
process of withdrawal. This review of the antecedents
provides the base of departure. It has established
that a relatively comfortable "special relationship'
existed. The Gulf participants and their Foreign
Office counterparts expected it to continue, perhaps
modifying and developing certain aspects, but retaining
the unique character of the Treaty System into the
mid-1970s. As Phillip Darby wrote, unlike Britain's
armed services ,,. "the Foreign Office was content to
operate on a basis of a model which emphasized the
short run rather than the long run." 88 The Labor
Government's decision to withdraw, while economically
87 "The Curater Package," New Statesman (19
January 1968) : 61.
88 British Defence Policy East of Suez 1947-
1968 , p. TW. _j
based, was really unrelated to specific conditions in
the Gulf at the time of the announcement in January
1968. It was disquieting, disconcerting and demanding
for both the Arabs and the British officials with whom
they dealt. How Britain met the challenge of with-
drawal, how she defined and defended her interests,
will now be discussed.
BRITISH WITHDRAWAL FROM THE GULF WHILE
UNDER THE LABOR GOVERNMENT
(JANUARY 1968 — JUNE 1970)
Initial Reaction to the
Decision to Withdraw"
Both in the British Foreign Office and in the
Gulf, reaction to Prime Minister Wilson's (18 January
1968) announcement of withdrawal was one of surprised
disbelief. One close observer held that the policy
reversal, coming as it did within six weeks of Minister
of State Goronwy Roberts' assurance to the contrary,
"so shattered the British relationship in the Gulf
that the next twelve months were spent recouping."
If in fact Anglo-Emirate relations were set back a
year, that evaluation acquires added significance in
view of the then British Ambassador to Kuwait's
description of initial reaction within Her Majesty's
Gulf diplomatic corps: "Nearly all of us were
1r. M. Burrell, private interview held at the
School of Oriental and African Studies (University of
London), London, 25 October 1973.
thoroughly appalled at the prospect of getting out in
four years." 2 Clearly, the British had set themselves
a monumental task. They had to leave behind a viable
political structure that would ensure "the one justi-
fiable expectation for the British government — British
oil interests will not be endangered."
Sir Geoffrey Arthur, who accompanied Goronwy
Roberts when the Emir of Kuwait was formally advised
of the Labor Government's new Gulf policy, reports that
Shaikh Sabah voiced his first concern about the de-
cision's implications for Bahrain. 4 Not coinciden-
tally, Bahrain's ruler, Shaikh Isa bin Solman al-
Khalifa, flew directly to Riyadh on learning of the
announcement, to convey his fears of impending Iranian
moves. Subsequent reports indicated that this
meeting between Saudi Arabia's King Feisal and Shaikh
2 Sir Geoffrey Arthur, Under-Secretary for For-
eign and Commonwealth Affairs, private interview held
at his office, Whitehall, London, England, 24 October
■"Countdown for a Federation," The Economist ,
(Special Survey of the Arabian Peninsula), 6 June 1970,
4 Sir Geoffrey Arthur, interview.
5 Times (London), January 16, 1968, p. 4.
Isa evoked a Saudi pledge "to support the government
of Bahrain"" against all foreign threats, and sparked
plans for a £10 million project to construct a twelve-
mile causeway, linking Bahrain Island to the Saudi
Iranian response came swiftly, as the Shah
abruptly canceled a long-scheduled visit to Feisal on
only forty-eight hours notice. In Tehran, newsmen
were privately informed that this Persian snub was
related directly to theBahraiHn-Saudi meeting. 9 And
so it was that the first effect of Prime Minister
Wilson's announced intention to withdraw British
forces was to polarize Arab and Iranian elements in
the Gulf. Both sides recognized that the British
treaty commitments, which guaranteed the shaikhdom's
independence and promoted the necessary stability for
British interests, would "be practically worthless
without a military force to support them on the
" Christian Science Monitor , 6 March 1968. See
also the New York Times , 18 January 1968.
Times (London), 18 January 1968, p. 18.
8 Times (London), 5 February 1968, p. 4.
New York Times, 10 February, 1968.
spot.**** Accordingly, both Arabs and Persians sought
to secure their own interests. The British did like-
wise, for though their Gulf policy had changed, peace
and stability remained the paramount goal of Her
Majesty's Government. The new circumstances dictated
that resolution of the Bahrain claim take first
priority if the January 1968 decision was to be exe-
cuted effectively. Inter-Arab territorial disputes,
tribal and shaikhly rivalries and the need to create
local government organs to perform vital functions of
state could only be faced after the potentially dis-
astrous international confrontation over Bahrain was
At first, Iran tried to keep Bahrain from be-
coming a focus for anti-Persian sentiment in the Arab
world. The Iranian Under-Secretary for Foreign
Affairs asserted in March 1968 that Bahrain "is a
question separate from /Iran's/ desire for cooperation
°Husain al-Baharna, The Legal Status of the
Arabian Gulf States (London: Manchester University
Press, 1968) , p. 7.
1 Sir Geoffrey Arthur, interview. See also
Robert Sullivan, "The Architecture of Western Security
in the Persian Gulf," Orb is (Spring 1970): 79, for
explanation of the inherent threat to oil interests
and to world peace in such a regional bipolarity.
with the Gulf states." 12 But this ignored fundamental
survival instincts of local Arab governments and the
essence of Arab nationalism. Even the two most stable
monarchial regimes, Riyadh and Kuwait, felt themselves
threatened by Nasirite forces, and capitulation to the
Persians in this case would have critically undermined
their own governments. Tehran's avowed refusal even
to negotiate the problem with the Arabs threatened to
polarize the Gulf and preclude the maintenance of
stable conditions that would guarantee the free flow
of oil. 13
The Federation of Arab Emirates
The Bahrainis were desperate. Some important
leaders on the island even advocated union with
Kuwait, but this was not considered feasible by the
rulers of either state, and so they extended their
quest for support by actively promoting union with
other Gulf shaikhdoms. Despite serious political,
^ Christian Science Monitor , 16 March 1968.
13 Times (London), 28 January 1968. The Iranian
rationale is contained in a government source's
quotation: "there will be nothing to discuss with
another Gulf power about the future of one's own
country . "
social and economic differences, federation was con-
sidered an important means to mobilize Arab solidarity
on the issue of territorial integrity and political
sovereignty. On 27 February 1968, the Federation of
Gulf Emirates was declared, linking the seven Trucial
States, Bahrain and Qatar. * This new union was
welcomed by Cairo Radio as "the 15th Arab State,"
which would protect the Gulf from the "U.S. -backed
Shah. " 15 This early effort to federate the shaikhdoms
fell far short of these expectations , but it is im-
portant to note that the union of nine emirates began
in reaction to the Persian irredentist policy.
To some British observers, it appeared that
"Iran's determination to protect its 'rights and
interest* in the Gulf 'with all its might' provided an
unexpected bonus" for the Nasirists, and they blamed
the Shah's "tactless impetuosity in dealing with the
Persian Gulf issues" for the situation. ° In
Karira Shakr, Second Secretary, Bahraxn
Permanent Mission to the United Nations, interview held
in his office, New York, New York, 25 September 1973.
15 Cairo Radio, 28 February 1968; Al-Ahram
(Cairo), 29 February 1968, quoted in Mizan X (Mar. /Apr. ,
1968) : 50.
"Persian Gulf: Intemperate Shah," The
Economist (10 February 1968) : 25.
contrast to his subordinates, the Shah's first public
statement in reaction to the British withdrawal
decision seemed remarkably understated. In it he
warned the Arabs not to ignore Iranian interests, and
to Whitehall he added, "We expect other countries to
respond with more than mere smiles when we extend the
hand of friendship . The newly formed federation was
not mentioned by the Shah, but he could hardly have
been unaware of its anti-Iranian bloodlines. In fact,
he waited over a month before referring directly to
the Federation of Arab Emirates (FAE) . On the eve of
Soviet Premier Kosygin's visit to Tehran in April,
the Shah denounced the FAE as a British ploy to maintain
"this historic inequity," that being a Bahrain beyond
his government's administrative grasp. This anti-
British propaganda tack had been introduced earlier
by the Persian Premier, Hoveyda, who warned that
"Britain's exit from one door should not result, for
instance in America's entrance from the other door, or
even Britain's re-entrance in some new form."
17 Times (London), 14 March 1968, p. 6.
18 Times (London), 2 April 1968, p. 4.
^ Christian Science Monitor , 6 March 1968.
(Ahmad Torokeh) . Actually, America's post-announcement
Predictably, Arab reaction to the FAE was
favorable. The Saudi "formal blessing" to the union,
implicitly backing an Arab Bahrain, came during a
visit to Riyadh by Qatar's ruler on 3 April 1968. At
that time , Feisal called for close economic , cultural
and technical cooperation between the federated
shaikhdoms and all Arab countries. Coinciding with
that visit, Shaikh Isa of Bahrain had travelled to
Baghdad for conferences with the Iraqi government, and
there became an increasing tendency to view the
Persian Gulf as an Iranian versus Arab arena. ^0
Britain was already harvesting the early fruits of her
precipitate decision, having clearly underestimated
the divisive tendencies unleashed by her sudden
announcement. A "dangerously unstable bipolar (Iran
vs. Saudi Arabia) international subsystem had sprung
up in the Persian Gulf." If left unchecked, it could
have disastrous repercussions. 2 ^
role to this point had been confined to an ill-conceived
call for an Arab, Persian, Turkish and Pakistani de-
fense alliance for the Gulf which had been broadcast by
Under Secretary of State Eugene Rostow on the Voice of
America. It was promptly rejected by the States con-
cerned. For details see the New York Times , 23
20 Times (London), 2 April 1968, p. 4.
21 Robert R. Sullivan, "The Architecture of _|
Additional official statements of support and
condemnation of the union were soon forthcoming from
the Saudi and Persian capitals respectively. King
Feisal was quoted in a New York Times article as
There need be no power vacuum in that area
when the British leave in 1971 as long as
the federation receives the support of the
United States and its neighbors. We
certainly support it. 22
While from Tehran the Shah warned the Arab shaikhs
against becoming the "inheritors of the -British im-
perialist policy." 23 Yet it would seem that as the
Western Security in the Persian Gulf," Orbis (Spring,
22 New York Times , 23 May 1968. Alvin J.
Cottrell, "The United States and the Future of the
Gulf after the Bahrain Agreement," New Middle East ,
22 (July 1970): 19, reports longstanding Saudi dis-
favor toward "the creation of a new entity such as
that proposed in the Federation on their border." It
did exist to a limited extent, but never did King
Feisal openly oppose the union. The Saudi position
will be treated in further detail in Chapter 4, but
throughout the withdrawal, the British were more con-
cerned with Arab-Iranian disputes than the inter-
23 Times (London), 27 May 1968, p. 5. See also
the excerpt from the influential Iranian press,
Ettelaat , quoted in the Times (London), 30 May 1968,
p. 8: "If the British imperialists think they can
continue to keep their feet in the Gulf by manipulat-
ing some of their Arab stooges, they sure are wrong.
Iran cannot tolerate political hypocracy."
Iranian rhetoric intensified, their confidence waned
in the policy of unyielding opposition to Bahraini in-
clusion in any Arab federation. In a succinct synop-
sis, The Economist portrayed the fallacy in the
The Iranian claim to Bahrain merely makes
its ruler, Shaikh Isa, more anxious to be-
come a part of a federated family. If
Bahrain opted out it would be bound to
seek independence and become one of the
United Nations' smallest members. And
where would the Shah be then? His present
ploy is to play upon Arab susceptibilities
by condemning the proposed federation as
another colonialist (British imperialist)
racket. But the. Arab nationalist capitals,
above all Cairo, have too many problems at
home to rise to the bait at present. Later
perhaps, but not now. 24
Resolution of the Bahrain Issue
It may have been that the Shah realized his
initial policy was counter-productive, for in early
June of 1968 he diverted his flight to the United
States to stop briefly in Jidda. An officially
"cordial" meeting ensued between the Gulf's two major
monarchs, cooling political tempers and setting the
stage for an extended visit by King Feisal to Tehran
"Persian Gulf: Nine in Step," The Economist
(13 July 1968) : 28.
later that year. -* This long overdue recognition of
the need for conciliation may have been in part pre-
cipitated by outside powers. In the two months prior
to the June meeting, the Soviet Navy had conducted an
unprecedented series of ship visits to ports in the
Gulf, perhaps reminding both sides of their mutual
vulnerability. 6 Yet another mitigating factor in the
intensifying Saudi-Iranian competition was the in-
cessant pressure of Radio Cairo, carrying its Nasirist
threat against their overriding conservative, dynastic
Whatever the immediate cause, this June meeting
marks an important departure in resolving the Bahrain
question. Polemical dispatches from Tehran gradually
subsided, and an Iranian olive-branch was even extended
to several Trucial State rulers, who officially called
on the Shah that August. ° Indications of accomodation
were also forthcoming from London. First, the Times
25 Times (London), 4 June 1968, p. 5.
26 Times (London), 13 May 1968.
27 Sullivan, p. 74.
Times . (London) , 27 August 1968, p. 4.
(London) editorially criticized the Labor Government's
failure to respect Iran's "legitimate" concerns for
Gulf security, and called for active Foreign Office
participation in mediating the Arab-Irani dispute. 2 ^
Within two months Sir Geoffrey Arthur was recalled from
Kuwait to Whitehall to serve as Assistant Under-
Secretary for Middle East Affairs. It is now
apparent that Sir Geoffrey functioned in the very role
the Times had demanded, orchestrating an intricate
complex of negotiations between the Iranians and Arabs
of several Gulf states. Her Majesty's good offices
were initially utilized in Kuwait, London, Tehran and
Manama, and progress was achieved even though Iranians
refused to deal directly with any Bahraini representa-
tives. The talks moved to Geneva by the end of 1968.
There, under United Nations auspices and the leader-
ship of Dr. Ralph Bunche, what Sir Geoffrey described
as, "along with Trieste, the only effective secret
diplomacy since World War II," was concluded. ^^
29 "The Dangerous Gulf," Times (London) 17
August 1968, p. 7.
This account was gleaned from interviews with
Sir Geoffrey Arthur and Karim Shakr, and from an
article by Lester Pearson, "Unforgettable Ralph
Bunche," Readers Digest (March 1973): 93.
The public record gives an indication of the
progress of the secret negotiations. King Feisal
reached Tehran in November 1968. Accompanied by his
highest advisors, the Arab King met with the Shah for
six days of intense bargaining. News reports on
these meetings tend to substantiate Sir Geoffrey
Arthur's observation that any serious attempts to
federate the shaikhdoms would necessarily await Saudi-
Persian agreement on Bahrain (see above, p. 47). Con-
siderable horse-trading went on over the heads of the
shaikhs, but out of it cooperation replaced confron-
tation as the new theme for Gulf politics. Signifi-
cantly, following the Tehran Conference, the Shah
travelled to Kuwait for further consultations on how
best to obtain regional stability. By December,
British Defense Minister Denis Healey could say,
"More progress has been made in the last nine months
toward reaching a more viable political arrangement
in the Gulf than has been made in the last twenty
•^ Times (London), 15 November 1968, p. 7. (Paul
Martin) , reports Iran dropped her "historic claim" to
Bahrain and recognized the FAE in exchange for guaran-
tees that Bahrain would be excluded from any Gulf
Middle East Journal , Chronology.
years." - 3 The most important public statement on
Bahrain ever issued by the Shah came during a state
visit to New Delhi in January, 1969. In it he uni-
laterally renounced the use of force in pursuit of the
Persian claim, implying that a means should be devised
for testing the popular will of the Bahraini people
to determine where their allegiance should ultimately
lie. ^ Three months later the method for such a
sampling became obvious when Persia's Foreign Minister
Zahedi climaxed his diplomatic rounds by announcing
in London that "... whatever the solution ^fbr the
Bahrain question/ it must go through the United
Nations."" shah Pavlavi publicly approved of the U.N.
instrument the following week. Finally Shaikh Isa
recorded his acceptance of a U.N. supervised "ascer-
tainment exercise" to measure his people's desires. '
33 Quoted in the Times (London) , 19 December
1968, p. 8.
Middle East Economic Digest , 10 January 1969,
XIII-2. Also see R. M. Burrell, The Persian Gulf
(New York: Library Press, 1972), pp. 41-42.
35 Times (London), 28 May 1969, p. 6.
36 Times (London), 10 June 1969, p. 11.
Times (London), 18 September 1969, p. 6. The
term "ascertainment exercise" was used to denote a
Bahrain's reluctance to» submit to a plebescite
belied the government's insecure political base. The
al-Khalifa family autocratically governed a relatively
sophisticated population, and their rule was predicated
on their absolute authority in all matters. Allowing
a United Nations commission to measure their' subjects'
opinions involved a voluntary surrender of authority,
and potentially unleashed the dissident political
forces on the island. Whether an act of desperation or
of political self-confidence, the decision to permit
an extra-national institution to decide the future of
Bahrain was reached very deliberately by Shaikh Isa.^8
The Shah also had to contend with tenacious
opposition to surrendering what generations of Iranians
had been taught was Persian soil. The political
O.N. -supervised opinion sounding. It did not comprise
a ballot procedure, but instead relied on a crude
polling technique which produced nevertheless a valid
sampling of the popular will. Mr. Anthony Reeve,
British diplomat, interview held at United Kingdom
Embassy, Washington, 1 December 1973.
Karim Shakr, interview, 25 September 1973,
maintains the decision was a demonstration of self-
confidence taken by a government certain of its popu-
larity. Canadian Prime Minister Pearson, in his
memorial to Ralph Bunche, "Unforgettable," p. 93, re-
lates an anecdote that sheds a somewhat different light
on the subject. He describes how the fatally ill and
almost blind Dr. Bunche few to Geneva and personally
reassured the Bahrainis, who began to back out of a _j
liability was enhanced by the fact that the censure
eminated from the right-wing, conservative elements
of Iranian society, which comprise the power-base of
the monarchy. His predicament was evident when he
said, "We have renounced the use of force, nevertheless
this is a question of prestige and it must be
Apparently the Shah and the Shaikh discovered a
way to meet their problem, for the secret negotiations
at Geneva ended with the public appointment of
Vittorio Winspeare Guiciardi, Director General of the
United Nations Geneva Office, to administer the
Bahrain opinion poll.*®' The "ascertainment exercise"
was held in April and the anticipated results announced
on 2 May 1970. The Bahrainis had opted "overwhelmingly
settlement during the final stage of the secret
39 Quoted in the Times (London), 10 June 1969,
p. 11. While both Sir William Luce and Sir Geoffrey
Arthur emphasized the Shah's substantial sacrifice on
the Bahrain issue, the Times Diplomatic Correspondent
suggested that the problem was not "a matter of as
much concern to the (Iranian) general public as the
(Iranian) government likes to tell foreign correspon-
jdents . . .,"15 March 1968, p. 7. .
U.N. Monthly Chronicle 7 (April 1970) :
to attain full independence and sovereignty" and that
"Bahrain should be an Arab state. ^ Iran's Permanent
Representative to the U.N., Mehdi Vakil, immediately
accepted the outcome, noting that the "long-standing
dispute had come to an end." The United Kingdom l s
Permanent U.N. Representative, Lord Caradon, effusively
attributed the successful conclusion to the irresistable
combination of "British restraint, Iranian magnanimity,
United Nations impartiality, Italian fairness of judg-
ment and Arab dignity and self-respect." Others
have alleged that more tangible factors were at work,
specifically contained in a secret corollary to the
Iranian agreement that decided the remaining Arab-
Irani territorial conflict over the Abu Musa and
Tumbs islands in Tehran's favor. 4 ^ This is strongly
denied, however, by British Foreign Office sources and
by Sir William Luce. The general impression they give
41 U.N. Monthly Chronicle 7 (May 1970): 3.
42 Ibid. , pp. 4-6.
43 Joseph J. Malone, The Arab Lands of Western
iia (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.,
Il 9 7 3 ) , p. 239, and Michael Burrell, interview, October
|1973, both imply an Anglo-Iranian understanding on
Persian control of these islands had been reached.
is that all concerned recognized the need to settle
Bahrain before getting on with the withdrawal of
British forces from the Gulf. The only compromise
reached on the islands issue was an agreement to dis-
agree. Subsequent events certainly indicate that,
secret corollary or none, the Abu Musa and Tumbs
controversy remained unsettled up to the last hours of
Britain's formal presence in the Persian Gulf. 44
British Policy Toward the
Resolution of the Bahrain conflict was an essen-
tial prerequisite for forming a viable political
structure on the Arab side. Bahrain, as the most
populous and politically advanced shaikhdom, could
hardly be expected to participate in any meaningful
regional planning before her own future status was re-
solved. Nor would the smaller states be free to act.
4 ^sir Geoffrey Arthur, interview, claimed that
the primary reasons for Sir William Luce's appointment
as Special Representative of the Foreign Secretary was
to resolve the islands issue. Sir William, while not
completely agreeing with the priority, did indicate
the islands issue occupied most of his energies.
Interview held at the Bath Club, London 24 October
1973. Both were substantiated by Mr. Anthony Reeve,
who served as Trucial States Desk Officer for the
Foreign Office from January 1970 until the withdrawal
was completed. Interview held at the British Embassy
to the United States, Washington, 1 October 1973. .
As was shown above, the genesis of the original union
was reactionary, a kind of fall-back position the
shaikhs turned to after their initial stunned (not to
say pathetic) attempt to oppose withdrawal. 45 Abu
Dhabi's Shaikh Zayd, on behalf of the Trucial rulers,
had proposed to underwrite the expense of maintaining
some British forces in the Gulf. The shaikhs had
hoped that this might alleviate the cause for the
decision, and £25 million was reportedly offered. ^^
After a rude rebuff by the British, 4 ^ Shaikhs Zayd and
Rashid (the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai) looked
inward, if not in desperation, at least in the absence
of any alternative. The proclaimed their intention to
Patrick Bannerman, Foreign Office Research
Department Middle East Desk Officer, interview held
in his office at Whitehall, London, England, 25
October 1973, pointed out that the rulers were
"schizophrenic about the withdrawal, wanting to re-
verse the decision yet seeing the impossibility of
" Times (London), 22 January 19 68,. p. 4.
47 Times (London), 20 February 1968, p. 4. Also
see Malone, The Arab Lands , p. 237. Karim Shakr stated
that the funds were to be provided by Abu Dhabi and
Dubai. Sir William Luce was one of many British
leaders critical of this perfunctory handling. He
wrote: "Afert all, other people pay for our forces
. . It should have been given very careful considera-
tion," see, "Britain's Withdrawal from the Middle
East and Persian Gulf," Journal of the Royal United
Services Institute 114 (March 1969) : 9. _l
jointly administer foreign policy, defense and
internal security, and to invite the other five Trucial
States to do the same. Bahrain and Qatar were in-
itially considered too far advanced for inclusion, but
when Bahrain objected to the implied isolation (citing
fears of Iranian occupation) , she aligned herself with
the budding federation. Qatar quickly followed
suit. 48 In a highly uncharacteristic display of
unanimity and alacrity, the nine rulers met at Abu
Dhabi, 26 February 1968. Qatar proposed a federal
executive Council of Rulers, to be supplemented by
consultative councils of defense, economic and
cultural affairs. 49 The meeting adjourned to the
euphoric accolades of the Arab press (see above, p. 47).
Even the sceptical British press enthusiastically re-
ported that the "old rivalries seemed to have been
buried in a common desire for a united front." 50
48 Times_ (London), 20 February 1968, p. 4, for
early moves. For text of the original Abu Dhabi-Dubai
agreement see Orient (Hamburg), April 1968, p. 67.
Additional legal background on the early stages of the
union contained in Husain M. al-Baharna, Legal Status
of the Arabian Gulf States (London: Manchester Univer-
sity Press, 1968), pp. 328-331.
49 Times (London), 27 February 1968, p. 5.
50 Times (London), 28 February 1968, p. 5. Also
see, "Persian Gulf: Desert Merger," Time , 1 March _j
The British played no role in the creation of
the union apart from the negative effect of Defense
Minister Healey's rejection of Shaikh Zayd's offer.
The Foreign Office "warmly welcomed "" and smiled
paternally on what was a genuine Arab initiative. *
On the other hand, they deliberately maintained a low
profile in support of the union to spare the shaikhs
the stigma among the Arab Nationalists of too close
an identification with the British, f The shaikhs
independently reinforced this effect by inviting no
British officials to the conference. -> 4 It has been
perennial British policy to encourage both eventual
self-sufficiency and some sort of union, but most
realistic observers agreed that few concrete
accomplishments had been generated. The phlegmatic
effort to develop the shaikhdoms before 1968 did not
derive from an deliberate British attempt to prolong
1968, p. 25, for an optimistic review of these events.
51 Times (London), 20 February 1968, p. 4.
Karim Shakr, interview. Alyo Sir Geoffrey
Arthur , interview .
53 Patrick Bannerraan, interview.
54 Times (London) , 28 February 1968.
the dependency status. Nor was it the practical
effect of a British plot to divide and rule. * In-
stead, it stemmed from complacency born of mutual
satisfaction. Both the British and the Arab rulers,
enjoyed their unique, symbiotic relationship and
neither really wanted it to end. The lack of progress
was belatedly admitted by Labor Party spokesman, Mr.
Denis Healey, before the House of Commons, when he
declared in March 1970:
. . . all progress which has been made in
the Gulf in the past twenty years towards
cooperation among the local states, notably
between Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the future
of Bahrain and the movement towards a union
in the lower Gulf, started only after Her
Majesty's Government announced three years
in advance that they planned to leave the
The 1968 announcement changed what had been an
academic exercise with no real program for implementa-
tion into a practical necessity. Few could quarrel
with the need for a more positive declaration of intent
As suggested by Leonard Mosely, Power Play;
The Story of Oil in the Middle East (New York: Random
House, 1973) , p. 360.
Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons), 5th series, vol. 812 (1 March 1971) :
1231. This writer inferred from the interview with Mr.
Bannerman that Mr. Healey' s opinion was substantially
to withdraw than had been previously stated. Objec-
tions were raised, however, regarding the timing of
this announcement, against both its self-imposed 1971
deadline and because it caught local rulers and their
British advisors by surprise. These factors forced
what would have been "realistic policy objectives
within ten years to become realistic policy objectives
in three or four years," 58 and undermined the shaikhs'
confidence in the British military and civilian
officials assigned as their advisors. Complicating
matters further, the rulers' dismay quickly turned to
disbelief when the opposition leader, Edward Heath,
declared his Conservative Party's intention to
"ignore the time phasing laid down by the Prime
Minister and his government for the Far East and the
Middle East." 5 " The natural predilection to believe
that what one wants to happen will occur was augmented
5 ^See Luce, "Britain's Withdrawal from the
Middle East and the Persian Gulf," p. 7. Also see
Michael Burrell's observation, p. 44 above.
58 Mr. Anthony Reeve, interview. At the time of
the announcement Mr. Reeve was serving as the Assistant
Political Agent in Qatar.
5 ^Great Britain, Parliamentary Debates (Commons) ,
5th series, vol. 756 (18 January 1963): 756.
by the unusually close ties that linked several
shaikhs to the Conservative Party. *>0
D ivisions Within the Federation
The British combination of poor preparation, an
ill-timed announcement, and a serious credibility gap
exacerbated the inherent divisions, parochialism and
inexperience of the Arabs. Despite the impression of
solidarity expressed in the news reports cited above,
the initial meeting of the rulers had exposed many of
the inter-shaikhly rivalries. Bahrain was especially
castigated, particularly by those who feared Iranian
retribution for their political involvement with the
al-Khalifa family. From the Bahraini perspective,
this attitude spawned a continuing push to exclude
them from the federation. It was expressed in the
interminable debates on the capital location, and
over constitutional bases for governing the union. ^
Yet there is good reason to believe these were more
than ersatz issues, for Bahrain's practical differences
Michael Burrell, interview. The effect of
|this Tory position on the development of the federation
rill be treated in detail below.
Karim Shakr, interview.
with her sister shaikhdoms reflected more fundamental
distinctions of both substance and style. She
possessed nearly half of the nine shaikhdoms* half
"million population. Bahrain was the only Gulf state
where the indigenous Arabs were not tribally oriented
and organized, and in which the rudiments of modern
political and economic systems existed.** 2 Thus the
opposition to Bahrain emanated from more than fear of
Iran. It did not go unnoticed by the less populous
and socially retarded Trucial States that adoption of
Bahrain's proposals for a closely-knit federation,
a proportionally-based legislative assembly, strong
central government headquartered on Bahrain, and
broad governmental participation in the economic and
social spheres, portended Bahrain's eventual domination
of the federation. Bahrain's reputation as a hotbed
of radicalism, her poor economic prospects following
British withdrawal, and her "arrogant and patronizing
approach to her Gulf neighbors virtually assured
concerted opposition to any Bahraini initiatives. -*
° 2 Aramco Background Information: The Nine
Amirates (Dhahran: Aramco , 1970), pp. 1-3. Also see
The Middle East and North Africa: 1963-1969 , 16th
ecT (London : Europa Publications Ltd. , 1969) , p. 55 5.
"Countdown for a Federation," The
On the other hand, the Bahrainis' commitment to
a union itself was suspect. As indicated above, her
initial move toward federation had been in response
to the Iranian threat. Subsequent compromises during
the debates with her sister shaikhdoms were accepted by
the Bahrainis in an effort to maintain the illusion of
Arab solidarity for the edification of the Shah. As
the secret negotiations dragged on in Geneva, the
Bahrainis' position on the constitutional bases of the
union was eroded. By the October 1969 meeting of the
nine rulers, she was informally commited to accepting
relatively minor ministerial portfolios and the loose
federal form advocated by her opponents, chiefly Qatar
and Dubai. Had not Ras al Khairaa's Shaikh Saqr stormed
out of that forum, disrupting it before the signatures
had actually been appended to the compromise agreement,
Bahrain might have been formally bound to abide by it.
Economist (Special Survey of the Arabian Peninsula) ,
6 June 197 0, p. 33. The Bahraini proposals were de-
lineated by Karim Shakr, interview.
Contrary to John Duke Anthony's article "The
(Union of Arab Amirates," Middle East Journal (Summer
1972): 284, it was this 1969 meeting and not the Oct.
1970 meeting that collapsed over a Constitutional
| dispute between Bahrain and Qatar. See The Economist ,
237 (31 October 1970): 30. At that 1970 meeting the
iQataris accused the Bahrainis of breaking their word
and, from the facts described above, the accusation _j
Instead, the Iranian claim to Bahrain was renounced '
and an unfettered Bahraini delegation reopened federa-
tion negotiations, free to renege on the concessions
that had been extracted but never formalized. 65
This fortuitous coincidence of Bahraini needs
and Ras al-Khaima's actions raised many an eyebrow.
Sir, Geoffrey Arthur called it "a put up job." 66
Ostensibly, Shaikh Saqr was spontaneously revulsed by
"the sudden intrusion" of British Political Agent,
James Treadwell, into the Abu Dhabi meeting. In fact,
Treadwell had been scheduled to read an official
letter from the Political Resident, which rather
inocuously encouraged the rulers to resolve their
differences expeditiously in the interests of forming
a more perfect union. Shaikh Saqr, one of the
wiliest of the Gulf rulers, was not one to be offended
by such a bland admonishment. Joseph Malone
may have some merit.
65 Karim Shakr, interview.
67 Times (London), 27 October . 1969 , p. 6, con-
tains excerpts of the letter as released by the Foreign
Office the preceeding day.
perceptibly analyzes the incident: "Observers
variously saw Saudi, Iraqi and Iranian influence behind
the old shaikh's actions, but connoisseurs of Gulf
politics asserted that he was in the pay of all
three countries . " " 8
The Willoughby Defense Review
The machinations manifested in the October 1969
meeting had characterized inter- shaikhly relations
for hundreds of years. As noted in Chapter One, the
Shaikhdoms had been created, largely out of long-
standing internal feuds. 69 The leaders had been condi-
tioned for generations to intrigue, to hate, to dis-
trust one another. It is not surprising, therefore,
that one of the few positive accomplishments of the
young federation had actually been contracted for, and
was the product of foreign labors. At the October
1968 meeting, the nine rulers laid the "theoretical
68 Malone, Arab Lands , p. 238. And the list of
suspects with a motive and the means to sabotage the
meeting grows the more one studies the problem. At a
minimum Qatar and Bahrain could well have had a hand
in Saqr's pocket.
^ 9 See John Duke Anthony, "The Union of Arab
Amirates," Middle East Journal 26 (Summer 1970): 271-
287, wherein pertinent rivalries are elaborated.
foundations" for establishing a joint military force
to replace the 6,000 British troops assigned to the
As with other federation matters, this military
issue divided the shaikhs between those desiring a
close union and those preferring the loose federation.
And, as with most controversial matters, their initial
response was to establish a committee to study and
report back with the findings. However, they soon
realized that the dearth of indigenous military
expertise required the rulers commission a foreign
military expert to make recommendations on creating a
defense system. ^0 The individual was chosen by the
rulers shortly after the October 1968 meeting adjourned.
To no one's surprise, he turned out to be British
Array officer, Major-General Sir John Willoughby.
Significantly, this officer had been Commander of the
British army in the Middle East, and had engineered the
difficult withdrawal of forces from Aden.
From Whitehall's standpoint, British policy
toward future local defense arrangements had already
been elucidated in the Supplementary Statement on
7 ° Times (London) , 22 October 1968, p. 6. See also
Middle East Journal f Chronology . .
Defense Policy issued in July 1968:
In parallel with the withdrawal of our
forces, we wish to see a steady evolution
in the local arrangements for defense and
cooperation . . . discussions about the
disposal of our installations will be
opened with the Persian Gulf States. 71
Again the shaikhdoms* and Her Majesty's policies dove-
tailed neatly, bespeaking a greater coordination than
either side will admit.
The Willoughby Report was completed in the
Spring of 1969. It recommended the incorporation of
the Trucial Oman Scouts, their associated facilities
and equipment, and the individual state defense
forces into one union Defense Force. 2 Arabization
of that army was to be a part of the program, as had
' been recommended by the liberal wing of the Labor
Party two years earlier. 7 ^ Most British military
advisors expected this to be a slow process, due to
the continuing requirement for outside technical
7^-Great Britain, Ministry of Defense, Command
Paper 3701, p. 5.
72 Times (London), 8 April 1969, p. 9. (A. M.
"Arabia When Britain Goes," Fabian Society
Research Series , 259 (London, Fabian Society) , April
1967, p. 23.
support for "some years" after 1971. 74 Willoughby '
proceeded to recommend a force composition that would
double the number of Trucial Oman Scouts and include
British-made high performance jet aircraft, helicopters,
patrol craft and air-defense missile systems, with
seconded and contract British officers integrated into
the command structure. 75 His input reflected a heavy
emphasis on suppressing potential internal subversive
movements, as opposed to withstanding any specific
It is particularly instructive to read an
article by Major-General Willoughby published only a
few months before he was contracted for this study.
In it he alluded to the "high potential for insur-
gency" in the Persian Gulf, and suggested techniques
to counter such a threat, based primarily on his
experience in Aden.° When the rulers accepted his
74 Times (London), 8 April 1969, p. 9 (A. M.
75 "Going, going . . .," The Economist (Special
Survey on the Arabian Peninsula] 235 (6 June 1970) : 35.
Also see Henry Stanhope, "Growing Naval Activity is
Expected," Times (London) (SPecial Report: Britain
and the Gulf) : V.
"Problems of Counter Insurgency in the Middle
East," Journal of the Royal United Services Institute
63 (May 1968) : 108. .
report in July 1969, the internal subversion threat,
"instigated possibly by one or more foreign powers
with the aim of installing a puppet or revolutionary
government" was re-emphasized by Willoughby.77 He
also maintained that the Union's defenses should be
capable of withstanding a foreign invasion long enough
to mobilize world opinion in the United Nations and
to bring in allies. The reports implied strongly that
private armies, such as the burgeoning Abu Dhabi De-
fense Force, should be allocated to the Union. Command
would be delegated to a seconded British officer to
avoid placing all military resources under any one
shaikh. ° It had been generally recognized that the
real strength of the 1,600 man Trucial Oman Scouts
had rested on just such independence. ^
Though the Willoughby Report contained virtually
no surprises and received verbal support from nearly
See Times (London) , military correspondent,
A. M. Rendel, report of July 21, 1969, p. 4, for
details of composition and missions.
78 Times (London), 30 July 1969, p. 4, (Rendel).
An indication of the Dubai reaction to all of this
came from Mehdi al-Tajer, director of the Ruler's
office, who openly expressed his fervent wish that
Britain remain past 1971.
The Economist , (Special Survey of the Arabian
Peninsula) 235 (6 June 1970): 34. _l
all quarters, its fundamental call for uniting the
varied defense organizations in the Gulf was ignored.
Shaikh Zayd continued to develop his Abu Dhabi Defense
Force (ADDF) . In 1969 the noted correspondent Nicholas
Herbert wrote, "I have heard talk in Abu Dhabi of the
ADDF's ability to handle the Saudi' s in a border
war." 80 By 1970, the force reached the level of
Brigade strength (that is two infantry regiments, an
armored car regiment and an artillery squadron, a
squadron (12) of Hunters, and a 12 patrol-boat Navy).
Qatar's Security Force was only slightly smaller. The
Bahrain Defense Force, begun in 1969, was also growing
independently, and even Ras al-Khaima created her own
300 man "mobile force" in 1969. 8l The traditional
predilection for self-sufficiency was again undermining
a successful transition of power. As late as February
1970, official British policy had not gone much beyond
the limited goal of the 1968 statement (see above,
p. 73) . The annual Statement of Defense Estimates
could only note that "emphasis has again been placed on
advising and assisting local forces in the preparation
80 Times (London), 6 October 1969, p. 13.
81 Times (London) , (Special Report: Britain and
the Gulf), 16 December 1970, p. IV. _l
f ° r out depa """ from a. Guw
- 1 * °V ^e end of 1971."
^ E22i ^n^f_ E h e _ !S a S r a ti os
Explanations abound for »m ,
—«• by British ad • ^-luster perfor-
r itl sh advisors and the Arah u ••
*« tradition of rautual ""*«»> •■»«». The
* e.tre.e social aTd " ^ ^ °~
ai and economic di SMr -.
Actions were ailuded to abQ d " l "~*"-
fusion in the • ^ ^"i"' 5 **"
in the unxon was discussed a
the composition of the • * "** apparent ,
or the union, not of ,-*-
institutions, was the fund, — Ponent
^e fundamental issue u
and to a lesser Ho as Bah "in,
J-esser degree was Qatar ~ *
to make their system ■ "***** as
^sterns incompatible with the
^cial shaikhdoms? * SeVen
The Fabian Societv 4-u .
*°=ialist an, f """^ in «-"tial
J- - L5T - arm of the t =u~
tne -Labor Partv h=^
*» »«7. opposin, a nnion of nili J^ °" ~
r e a — - -~ : int :i r ct ° f
the foreseeable future ■ ^deration in
future xs unrealistic ■ K a
•oci« development and the 9 ross 0f ""
^•"several, , Nation i^alan-
^J""^^. sources insist that
».. P >" — n, Ministry of oefense, co^and
""Arabia: When Britain Goes , .. p _ „
Great Britain had pushed for a union of nine. 8 *
Correspondent Michael Wall sardonically observed that
the British recipe for stability is the
creation of a federation of the nine Gulf
amirates . . . /th"is7 looks as sensible on
Whitehall desks as did the federations
proposed for South Arabia, the Caribbean,
Malaysia and Nigeria. 85
But British officials deny this to a man. Sir Geoffrey
Arthur asserts that "everyone knew it would be
seven," 86 and the Foreign Office Research Department
reportedly warned at the time that Qatari and Bahraini
participation "unnecessarily exacerbated centrifugal
forces" that sprang from the internal rivalries within
the seven Trucial States. 87 In May 1969, Foreign
Secretary Michael Stewart provided an indication that
these opinions were based on more than perfect hindsight,
by reaffirming his government ' s preference for a
"mini- federation /T.e., without Bahrain/ to none at
Malone, Arab Lands , p. 238. Also see The
Economist , (Special Survey of the Arabian Peninsula) ,
6 June 1970, p. 33.
Quoted from an article by Nevill Brown, "Brit-
ain and the Gulf — Don't Go Just Yet Please! The Wisdom
of Withdrawal Reconsidered," New Middle East 24
(September 1970): 44.
°Sir Geoffrey Arthur, interview.
87 Patrick Bannerman, interview.
all." 88 , - n
Encouragement for the larger grouping was emana-
ting from a powerful outside source, however, that
being King Feisal in Saudi Arabia. He hoped to dilute
the power and prestige of his old Buraimi rival, Shaikh
Zayd of Abu Dhabi, by adding the virtual Saudi clients
in Doha and Manama to the federation. He also reasoned
that a union of nine would be less inclined to take
instructions from Tehran. 8 ^ Ironically, the Foreign
Office concluded that Feisal considered the seven-
state grouping to be a British ploy, upgrading Shaikh
Zayd's relative power in the Gulf,90 in a post-
withdrawal version of the old divide and rule devise.
The myriad of internal and external conflicting
interests, maneuvering within the Byzantine atmosphere
of Gulf politics, had a debilitating effect during the
two and one-half years that preceded the ousting of
88 Times (London), 30 May 1969, p. 6.
8 ^Patrick Bannerman, interview. Sir William
Luce confirmed this impression of the Saudi role,
noting that as late as April 1971, he personally tried
and failed to convince King Feisal that a union of nine
was not feasible.
Sir Geoffrey Arthur, interview.
Britain's Labor Government in 'June 1970. The ceaseless
constitutional bickering over political representation,
capital location, and diplomatic corps and defense
force composition, simply manifested the larger, the
substantive differences. The rulers refused to face
these issues, consistently establishing committees and
sub-committees to review the reports of still other
committees and sub-committees. Statements were released
and non-decisions announced, while a veritable
bureaucracy of study groups grew up in lock-step accor-
dance with the rules of parliamentary procedure.
Perhaps all this provided a necessary educational and
experiential transition, since particularly the Trucial
State rulers had evolved in a highly traditional
society, made even more anachronistic by the insulating
British presence. Where there had been moderate social
and economic development under British tutelage, the
Arab rulers' resistance to political advancement had
been almost total. Considering this reinforced
parochialism, one can sympathize with the shaikhs, who,
^Sir William Luce considered the capital loca-
tion issue "a nonsense', interview.
92 "Arabia: When Britain Goes," Fabian Society
Research Series 259 (London, Fabian Society) , April
1967, p. 19. _j
' ' 1
with the British withdrawal, faced a complete reorgani-
zation of their power system. The Economist
described the situation:
Since the February, 1968 formation of the
federation, traditional family feuds, tribal
dissent, greed for money and power and, above
all, the slow realization of what federation
really meant have blocked every attempt to
move forward beyond mere agreement to the
The Conservative Party's Position
Yet much of the blame must be shared by the
British. Sir Alec Douglas-Home condemned the January
1968 announcement of the decision to withdraw for
bringing "to the surface tensions which had hitherto
lain dormant." 95 But the Conservatives contributed to
the negative impact by announcing their intention to
reverse the decision (see above, p. 66). Following an
April 1969 visit to the Gulf, Mr. Heath insisted that
his talks with "seven major rulers, a large number of
9 Patrick Bannerman, interview. Also see The
Economist (Special Survey of the Arabian Peninsula) ,
pp. 33-34, for extended discussion on this aspect of
94 "Countdown, " The Economist , p. 33.
95 Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons), 5th series, vol. 812 (1971) :
merchants and people in the Emirates , as well as people
in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt" left him certain that
the British presence should remain after 1971. 96 How-
ever, the Shah of Iran refuted Mr. Heath's contention:
We have never regarded the British presence in
the Gulf as for us. It has always been
against. Your Government has always favored the
Arabs at our expense. It was your Government's
decision to go and we shall not invite you
back — I made this clear to Mr. Heath when he
was here . . . . " 97
Predictably, the British Labor Government also
disclaimed support for Mr. Heath's view. Foreign
Secretary Michael Stewart sensibly acknowledged the
impossibility of reversing the withdrawal decision
"... because the world has changed and so has the
British role east of Suez." 98 The former Political
Resident in the Gulf, Sir William Luce, whose views
were highly regarded by British policy makers, agreed
that, while disapproving of the timing and method of
the decision, it had "set in motion certain processes
Times (London), 10 April 1969, p. 5. The
following day the Times , p. 8, reported Mr. Heath de-
clared that Conservative Party policy was to remain
97 Times (London), 10 June 1969, p. 11. (Winston
98 Times (London) , 30 May 1969, p. 6.
which cannot be put back." 99 The Times diplomatic
correspondent, after a two week survey of opinion in
the area, reported "unanimity among /British/ diplo-
< mats and the military" that the Tory-advocated policy
reversal "would make the eventual withdrawal, and the
achievement of stable conditions after it, all the
harder. "100 The reasoning was obvious, "so long as
! the British are there, and hint that in certain circum-
i stances they may be prepared to stay, the rulers have
no incentive to push on with the federation."
99 Sir William Luce, "Britain's Withdrawal from
the Middle East and Persian Gulf," Journal of the Royal
Un ited Services Institute 114 (March 1969) : 6-8. This
in itself was a reversal of the personal position
taken in an article by Sir William Luce in 19 67, when
he called for a gradual withdrawal based on the Kuwait
model, wherein military protection was guaranteed
even after the direct political connection had been
severed. See "Britain and the Persian Gulf," Round
Table 227 (July 1967) : 277-283.
Times (London), 8 April 1969, p. 9. (A. M.
The Economist 237 (31 October 1970): 33.
EXECUTION OF WITHDRAWAL UNDER
THE CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT
(JUNE 1970-DECEMBER 1971)
The Government Changes
Both the Labor Government's announcement of the
withdrawal plan in January 1968 and the Conservative
Party's opposition to the policy were based on domestic
and international political considerations that only
indirectly related to the conditions in the Gulf. As
discussed in Chapter II, the Labor Government's de-
cision was taken because, within the Party ranks,
domestic affairs outweighed foreign affairs when allo-
cating their limited resources. So too did the
Conservative Party position embody the views of a
significant British political constituency. This group
believed that, "the legacy of empires survives . . .
in the unwritten moral and sentimental duty felt by
many in Britain" to previous imperial clients and in
"the numerous explicit British treaty commitments to
SEATO, to CENTO, to the countries of the Persian Gulf,
and to Malaysia and with Singapore. ~*
Appealing to this mentality, Mr. Heath and his
party hammered away on their anti-withdrawal theme.
Shadow Foreign Secretary, Alec Douglas-Home, endorsed
a right-wing party pamphlet that "mobilized the facts
which are consistent with a /Soviet^ intention to
outflank Europe by naval action ..." The pamphlet
asserted that "the Labour Government's decision to
withdraw from the Gulf is an open invitation to fill
the vacuum left by Britain's departure." In November
he wrote the foreword for another Conservative pamphlet
that called for maintaining a military presence in the
Gulf, where "the governments consider our presence to
be of paramount importance for the future stability of
the area." 3 The influential Economist editorially
L. W. Marlin, "British Defense Policy: the
Long Recessional," Adelphi Papers 61 (November 1969):
2 Red Fleet Off Suez (London: Conservative
Political Centre, January 1969) , forword and p. 10.
Sir Alec, a Conservative Party spokesman on foreign
affairs, had consistently called for maintaining a mili-
tary British presence in the Gulf because "a presence
denies an opening for a possible enemy looking to stir
the pot of trouble." As quoted in the Times (London),
25 August 1969, p. 4.
3 A Presence East of Suez (London: Conservative
Political Centre, November 1969), see forword and p.
14. Sir Alex applauded this illustration of "the
backed this line, noting that,' though a working
federation of Arab states could have been achieved had
it "been pursued vigorously before the oil wealth . . .
not only has it come too late but the attempt is being
made to push it through too fast." 4 Opposition leader
Edward Heath succinctly conveyed the Tory position in
an article in Foreign Affairs :
' It is more and more recognized that the
economies promised as a result of the policy
of withdrawal are false in the sense that
they expose British interests and the future
of our friends to an unacceptable risk.^
When elections were called in early 1970,
repudiation of Labor's Gulf policy became a key plank
in the Tory Party platform. Political pundits felt
this contributed to the surprising June 1970 victory
by Mr. Heath. 6
extent of British economic interest in the areas of the
Persian Gulf . . . and to the absolute need" for
Britain to maintain access to the oil.
"Countdown for a Federation," The Economist
(Special Survey of the Arabian Peninsula) 235 (6 June
5n Realism in British Foreign Policy," Foreign
Affairs 48 (October 1, 1969): 50.
Times (London) , 23 June 1971, p. 1.
Not only had the Conservative platform pleased
their electorate, it reportedly cheered their American
allies. President Nixon's fragile, "jerry-built" con-
tingency plans for a Vietnam-burdened U.S. response to
the proposed pull-out could now be set aside. *
Secretary of State Rogers, "one of those white, Anglo-
Saxon, Protestant Americans who believe' that Britain
still has a worldwide role . . .," pressured for quick,
official implementation of Heath's campaign promise to
remain in the Gulf.
Sir Alec Up the Gulf
Perhaps in partial response, in one of the new
Government's first moves, Foreign Secretary Sir Alec
Douglas-Home was dispatched to the Gulf in a 'fact-
finding' mission. Sir Alec was to assess the possi-
bility of halting the withdrawal, and he contacted
each of the Gulf shaikhs to determine their views.
Opinions of the major regional powers were also to be
solicited. The Economist applauded the action:
It is right that the British government is
taking a long, cool look at the situation
in the Persian Gulf before it decides
8 Ibid., 27 June 1970, p. 1. _l
whether or not to keep a military presence
But the facts Sir Alec found were somewhat at
odds with the pre-election rhetoric. Naturally, the
rulers of Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial States desired
a formidable British presence in the Gulf. They re-
garded it as "protection against internal subversion,
against any hope by their more powerful neighbors to
swallow them up, or by one shaikhdom to take over
another. " 10 But in highly uncharacteristic concert,
Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran all agreed the
British should be out of the Gulf on schedule.
Politically, Iraq had aligned opposite her ex-Mandatory
tutor for years. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait opposed
the continuation because they believed:
1. they now possess sufficient military power
to handle regional defense;
2. British military strength amounts to only
about 6,0 00 men, a totally inadequate force
to provide realistic security;
3. the British troops are more likely to be
an incitement to external groups than a
4. the British military presence might serve
9 "Sir Alec Up the Gulf," The Economist 236
(18 July 1970) : 14.
10 Ibid. _J
as an excuse for some other extra-regional
power (such as the Soviet Union or Red China)
to establish a base in the Persian Gulf
Sir William Luce Appointed
Sir Alec returned to London in June 1970, with-
out any real excuse for continuing the British presence
in the Gulf. In recognition of the regional realities,
and in the reaction to strong Foreign Office pressure
to stick to the 1971 withdrawal deadline, and perhaps
in the post-election easing of the political constraints,
Sir Alec took a lesson from the shaikhs and decided to
contract a study of the problem. He appointed Sir
William Luce to be his special representative, to
systematically review the possibility of keeping
British forces in the Gulf. The final Government
decision on the matter would then be expected within
Roy E. Thomas, "The Persian Gulf Region,"
Current History 60 (January 1971) : 43. Also see,
Neville Brown, "Britain and the Gulf — don't go just yet
please! The Wisdom of Withdrawal Reconsidered," New
Middle East 24 (1 September 1970): 44.
Times (London), 28 July 1970, p. 4. Sir Alec
also replaced Political Resident Sir Stewart Crawford
with Assistant Undersecretary of Foreign and Common-
wealth Affairs, Sir Geoffrey Arthur, at this same
two months after the Luce report was submitted. 13
It is difficult to fault the new Foreign Secre-
tary's choice of Sir William Luce. A man eminently
qualified, his experience, intelligence and demeanor
well-suited him for his role as visiting fireman. His
contacts in the Persian Gulf were formed during his
days as Political Resident (he served in that capacity
from 1961-1968). They were for the most part still
active. He enjoyed the personal respect of each Gulf
ruler, and his integrity was beyond reproach.
On the other hand, Sir William had been on
record strongly opposed to "going back on withdrawal."
While critical of the timing and method of the original,
1968 decision, he adamantly believed that it "set cer-
tain processes in motion . . . /In the Gulf states
that necessitated/ ending of their status of British
protected states and therefore of the basis of our
present political and military position in the Gulf."
No obstacles to a viable union would be removed by
prolonging the British role beyond 1971, and there was
13 Times (London), 28 September 1970, p. 4.
Karim Shakr, interview, specifically confirmed
this opinion. For a negative appraisal of the man, see
Leonard Mosley, Power Plan: Oil in the Middle East
(New York: Random House, 1973), p. 360. _j
nothing to prevent a successful union by that dead- '
line. 5 When first notified that he was being con-
sidered for the post, Sir William reminded Sir Alec of
his publicly stated, personal conviction, and asked if
in fact the new Prime Minister had changed his views on
the question. Only after being assured that all
members of the newly elected Government had "open
minds" did Luce accept the appointment. 1 ^
Not everyone agrees with this official version
of Sir William's duties. Sir Geoffrey Arthur offered
the Foreign Office view, that the appointment of a
special representative was required to supplement the
efforts of the Gulf Political Resident in effecting the
^Sir William Luce, "A Naval Force for the
Gulf: Balancing Inevitable Russian Penetration,"
Round Table 236 (October 1969): 355.
Sir William Luce, interview, conducted at the
Bath Club, London, 24 October 1973. The Foreign
Minister's assertion that policy for withdrawal was
undecided before Sir William's selection is disputed.
Alvin J. Cottrell, "Conflict in the Persian Gulf,"
Military Review 51 (February 1971) : 35, maintains that
the Shah of Iran was specifically assured in June 1970
by Sir Alec Douglas-Home of the Tory Government's
intention to be out by the end of 1971. This opinion
was supported by Gulf expert Mr. Michael Burrell,
during an interview held in his office at the University
of London, School of Oriental and African Studies,
25 October 1973.
the withdrawal. According to the Under-Secretary, the
resolution of the Bahrain issue (see Chapter II) had
been unduly delayed because there was no person in a
position of responsibility who had the freedom of
action to expedite the diplomatic maneuvering. The
remaining issues, especially those with direct inter-
national ramifications (Abu Musa and Tumbs) , required
an action-officer to shepherd their resolution in the
limited time available. ' The Times (London) had
withheld comment on the governmental ly alleged policy
review, while editorially encouraging Sir William in
his "urgent mission" to unite the shaikhdoms. ° Some
more skeptical, (or perhaps less inhibited ) observers
considered the first function of the Luce Mission was
to "report back and make it £i\e. , withdrawal in
accordance with the 1971 schedule/ look good to the
Conservative Party." 1 " While most knowledgeable
students of Gulf affairs perceived the inadvisability
^Undersecretary for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs, Sir Geoffrey Arthur, in an interview held in
his office, Whitehall, London, 24 October 1973. He
was non-commital concerning Sir William's role in
the withdrawal decision.
18 Times (London), 3 August 1970, p. 7.
19 Michael Burrell, interview.
of further withdrawal delays, Sir William was one of
the few capable of convincing the Conservative Party,
in particular its right wing, to reverse their pre-
election stance. It is this elusive political aspect
of the Luce appointment which cannot be ignored when
reviewing the curious evolution of the Conservative
Government's Gulf policy.
Sir William Up The Gulf
Sir William contends that his primary task was
to study the problem and recommend a proper policy.
Upon his appointment, he set out for the Middle East, where
he was cordially received throughout the Gulf and at
Jidda, Tehran and Cairo. Only in Baghdad was the
British diplomat snubbed and, in response, that was his
last attempt to solicit the Iraqi view.
His initial survey revealed little that was new
for Sir William. The Bahrainis, "as would any
sensible people," wanted the best of two worlds. They
enjoyed the independent status only recently conferred
^ Times (London) , 18 August 1970, p. 4, and
23 September 1970, p. 8, report the progress of the
Luce Mission. The Iraqi experience was directly re-
lated by Sir William Luce, interview. The Baath
Government of Iraq refused to meet with him, techni-
cally because he lacked ministerial rank.
after the U.N. "ascertainment exercise", but hoped to
retain an "undefined" Royal Navy or Air Force protec-
tive umbrella. The Qataris would probably have agreed
to this, and the Trucial States Rulers expressed the
desire for some continuing "small British presence"
in the area. 21 In July. 1970, Dubai's Shaikh Rashid
all the Rulers and people of the Union (of
Arab Emirates) would support the retention of
British troops, even though ' . . . they
would not give a direct answer out of respect
for the general Arab view'. 2 2
On the contrary, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran
vigorously opposed any extension of Britain's special
relationship in the Gulf. 23
As Sir William made these initial rounds, his
reputedly "open minded" (see above p. 91) Conservative
Government persisted to posture as guardians of the
Empire. Sir Alec Douglas-Home declared: "This
21 Sir William Luce, interview.
22 Quoted in New Middle East 24 (September 1970)
Sir William Luce, interview. Also Times
(London), 28 September 1970, p. 4, reports similar
though less detailed conclusions.
24 See Times (London), 14 October 1970, p. 7,
which reports Sir William's return to the Gulf amid
government hints that an extension was probable.
Government has no intention of dropping out ^ahd
leave the Communists to takeover/ an area where vital
British interest lie." 25 But the Luce report was
submitted by November, and it reaffirmed Sir William's
previous opinions, urging adherence to the Labor
Government's original guidelines.
The Policy Change
The impact of Sir William's recommendation was
somewhat apparent when Prime Minister Heath, while
decrying the increase in Soviet naval incursions in
the area, adopted a more moderate tone in mid-November
1970. The Prime Minister said simply, "That's why we
have a special representative discussing with leaders
in the Gulf how we can help maintain stability in
the area." 2 ^ Only the month before, in a special
supplementary Statement on Defense, Heath's own
25 Quoted in the Times (London) , 10 October 1970,
2 ^Sir William Luce, interview, 24 October 1973.
He did drop his earlier proposal that a permanent
Royal Navy contingent operate in the Gulf, having been
enlightened in his official capacity of severe
financial limitations on such a venture. That sugges-
tion had been publicly floated in his article, "A
Naval Force for the Gulf: Balancing Inevitable
Russian Penetration," pp. 347-356.
2 ^Quoted in the Times (London) , 17 November
Ministry had confidently reaffirmed that, "The govern-
ment is determined to restore Britain's security to
the high place it must take . . . and make good as
far as possible the damage of successive defense re-
views ..." The carriers would stay into the 1970* s
and forces east of Suez would be increased.
But the February 1971 White Paper reverted to
the earlier strong Tory line, promising a British
naval force in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf, with
long range reconnaissance squadrons based on Gan and
Masira islands to counter the "growing Russian naval
presence in the area."^ At the House of Commons
hearings on the Defense Review, Lord Balniel, the new
Minister of State for Defense, also referred to
the dramatic expansion of the Soviet Navy
of its modernization, its development in the
Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean . . .
Massive military maneuvers on borders, con-
tinuous and visible naval presence off the
shores — these things can win win objectives
almost as valuable as any which can be won
by direct military aggression .... It can
make neutralism seem a pleasant soft option.
1970, p. 4.
Great Britain, Cmd. 4521, p. 3.
Great Britain, Ministry
Defense Review, Cmd. 4 592, p. 6.
29 Great Britain, Ministry of Defense, The
Therefore, the Conservative Government was accelerating
new warship construction to an "unprecedented rate" in
peacetime. In the Gulf,
British forces are no longer permanently
deployed, but we have not severed our
connections with the area. There will be
frequent visits by warships, Army units and
aircraft . . . and a military advisory team
will remain at Sharjah . . .^°
Incidently, the Soviet reaction to all this is
epitomized in an article by V. Zelenin: British troop
withdrawals are a sham, Britain "has done nothing to
change the standing of the area east of Suez with
British imperialism, and there are many facts to show
that Britain has no intention of giving up her in-
fluence in this area. "31
But despite what the Conservatives or the
Communists said, the die had been cast and things had
irrevocably changed. Saudi Arabia and Iran had
initiated extensive military and naval expansion pro-
grams. Kuwait and Britain had given the required
three-year notice to terminate their mutual defense
3°Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary De-
bates (Commons), vol. 831 (1971): 1311-1317. Techni-
cally Lord Balniel was premature in stating that
British forces were out of the Gulf. That would
actually be effected later in 1971.
31 "Britain's Maneuvers East of Suez,"
pact of 1961 in May 1968, in accordance with the
Labor Government's announced withdrawal plans. The
Conservatives* oft-stated intention to ignore these
transitions merely distorted the regional accomodation
to inevitable change by inhibiting the development of
viable political institutions within and among the
shaikhdoms. (See previous chapter) . David Holden
appreciated this fact when he wrote:
the most unfortunate aspect of the uncertainty
about British intentions introduced by the
Conservative Party and Government after 1968
was the encouragement it offered, until
March of this year, to Bahrain, Qatar and the
Trucial Shaikhdoms to postpone firm decisions
about their own future in the hope that
Britain might, after all, decide to stay on^
Not until 1 March 1971, only nine months before
the formal departure, did Prime Minister Heath's
Government officially accept the recommendations in the
Luce report. Sir Alec went before the Parliament and
announced that Great Britain would offer a Treaty of
Friendship, replacing existing agreements, and would
also assist in the turnover of the Trucial Oman Scouts
International Affairs (Moscow) , (November 1972) : 45.
32 Times (London), 19:6, 20 May 1968, p. 32.
33 "The Persian Gulf: After the British Raj,"
Foreign Affairs 49 (July 1971): 730.
to the Union Defense Force. Military advisors wOuld
be made available, with a small team stationed in
Sharjah to act "in a liaison and training role" for
British units that planned to periodically use the
desert facilities. 34 Shadow Cabinet spokesman, Denis
Healey, sarcastically retorted:
The opposition welcomes the Right Honorable
Gentleman's conversion, however belated,
to the views of the Labour Government, and
we look forward to further conversions at
an early date. 35
The Conducive Milieu
Sir William's report went beyond his primary
mission to include a plea for deeper British involve-
ment in establishing a union of emirates. He deter-
mined that the deliberate distance maintained by the
Foreign Office had actually "thrown off" the rulers,
who had become accustomed to close, open British in-
volvement in all their important matters. The
political rationale for the low profile (see Chapter
III) notwithstanding, the federation was foundering and
time was running out. 3 **
34 Great Britain, Parliament, Parliamentary
Debates (Commons), vol. 812 (1971): 1228.
35 Ibid., col. 1230.
3 Luce, interview. Also the Times (London) , —
In October 1970, yet another gathering of the
rulers broke up amid a clamor of mutual recriminations.
Again the hopes for meaningful progress dissolved as
Qataris accused Bahrainis of breaking their word on
previous agreements on capital location, 37 while
Bahrainis stiffened their demands for inclusion in the
Union. 38 From Sir William Luce's perspective, the
chronic quarreling among the shaikhs threatened the
basic British interest in the future of the Gulf oil
industry. In 1967, he maintained that the fundamental,
post-war contribution of Britain's forces in the
Persian Gulf had been to guarantee the stability
essential to produce and distribute petroleum. He had
anticipated the eventual withdrawal of those forces,
Our aim should therefore be to do all we
can to help bring about the sort of condition
which would enable us to terminate honorably
14 October 1970, p. 7, reports Sir William's concern
with the Union's development and resolution of local
37n The Gulf: Can't Stay, Can't Go," The
Economist 237 (31 October 1970): 30.
38 Karim Shakr, interview. Also see Chapter
III, above for exposition of the impact that the U.N,
plebescite had on the Bahrain position in the
our special relationship with the Gulf
States and to withdraw without undue risk
to peace and stability. "
This would require the active concurrence of the
That same year, the Fabian Society had asserted
that "The real need in the Gulf area . . . /was for7
_additional British political efforts to produce a
balance of power in the Gulf between Iran, Iraq,
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait." 40 Luce himself later
elaborated this theme, writing in 1969, over a year
before his appointment as Special Representative:
the most important single contribution to
peace that Her Majesty's Government could make
in the Gulf . . . /would be to effect/ an
understanding between Iran and Saudi Arabia
regarding the status-quo of the Gulf States 4 - 1 -
His idea was fundamental. The Economist had drawn
the practical correlation between the regional powers
and the federation's faltering: "The breakdown of the
39n Britain and the Persian Gulf," Round Table
227 (July 1967) : 280.
40 "Arabia: When Britain Goes," Fabian Society
Research Series 259 (London, Fabian Society) , April
1967, p. 19.
4 *Sir William Luce, "Britain's Withdrawal from
the Middle East and the Persian Gulf," Journal of the
Royal United Services Institute 114 (March 1969) :
negotiations for a federation could be connected with
the position Iran has taken: at least one ruler is
always ready to do what he thinks will please the
Shah." By the same token, Saudi Arabia's concern
over the implications that the Federation might have on
her claim to Buraimi had prompted King Feisal to
threaten forceful occupation of the oasis once
Britain withdrew her protection from Abu Dhabi. 43
Neither Gulf Power's behavior was conducive to
federating the shaikhdoms and creation of a more
favorable regional climate had become imperative.
Accordingly, once his policy recommendations were com-
pleted and submitted to the Foreign Secretary, Sir
William began another intense round of international
negotiations , this time aimed at developing a consen-
sus on how the stability in the Gulf would be
achieved. 4 4 Simultaneously, the Foreign Office under-
took a complete analysis of the disengagement,
42 "The Gulf: Can't Stay, Can't Go," p. 33.
43 al-Rai al-Am (Kuwait), 19 May 1970, cited by
Alvin J. Cottrell, "The United States and the Future
of the Gulf after the Bahrain Agreement," New Middle
East 22 (July 1970): 19.
44 See Times (London) , 9 December 1970, p. 7
and 20 January 1971, p. 6. The negotiations ensued in
Jedda, Tehran, Kuwait and London. •
revitalizing the programs for transfer of functional '
responsibilities to include the retrocession of juris-
dictional responsibilities, the turnover of defense
forces and equipment, and their extensive consular,
customs, and administrative services. 4 ^ The British
hoped to see both approaches coalesce prior to their
pull-out, producing the regional stability deemed so
essential to their interests.
Regional Detente: The Islands
As with the Bahrain dispute, latent Arab-Irani
hostilities threatened to erupt over the Persian claim
to the Gulf islands of Abu Musa and Tunbs. For years
Iran had argued that these miniscule islands had been
illegally appropriated by the British and transferred
to their clients in Sharjah and Ras al-Khaima. No
longer too weak to defend her own territory, a re-
vitalized Persia would reassert her sovereignty. The
Shah personally adopted an increasingly hard line,
following his compromise on Bahrain. That had been
a politically unpopular decision and drawn unexpectedly
severe condemnation from his right-wing power base in
^Sir William Luce, interview. Details of
this aspect of the conservative Government's Gulf
withdrawal will be treated in Chapter IV.
Iran (See Chapter III) . The Iranian Government
had to launch a major propaganda effort to convince
the Persians that Bahrain's loss was necessary. The
arch-conservative, Pan-Iranian Party was then sup-
pressed for a year, after rejecting the Shah's con-
Perhaps in reaction to this explosive, intan-
gible element of national pride, the Shah reversed his
June 1969 statement that "Once the question of Bahrain
is settled there would be no objection to a federation
of shaikhdoms. " 4 ? He predicated Tehran's recognition
of any shaikhly polity on their ascendence to his
demands. 48 He insisted that was simply a reasonable
quid pro quo for his relinquishing the Bahrain claim,
and offered to further conciliate his Arab adversaries
with substantial financial compensation. ' The
official rationale for Persia's renewed adamancy over
4 ^ Times (London) , 16 December 1970 (Special
Report: Britain and the Gulf) , p. 1. Mr. R. M.
Burrell also emphasizes this point during an interview
in his office at the University of London, 25
47 Times_ (London), 10 June 1969, p. 11 (Winston
S. Churchill) .
48 "The Gulf: Can't Stay, Can't Go," p. 33.
49 Times (London), 11 May 1971, p. 14 (Dennis ,
Walters) . - 1
the islands was then declared: "If some nihilist
power gets hold of the islands, then the consequences
for the rest of us can be dangerous. Hence the islands
have to be in safe hands. "50 Apparently the Shah
concurred with Leonard Mosly's dictum that "... who-
ever controlled the Tunbs controlled the straits." 51
In February 1971, Sir William Luce notified the
Shah that his Government would hold to the 1971 dead-
line. He did so slightly in advance of the public
announcement before Britain's Parliament that March.
This news appeared to satisfy the Shah, but the Persian
ruler reiterated his own intention to take the islands
by force should peaceful means fail prior to British
withdrawal. 52 His strategic defense needs were con-
sistently cited in justification of his uncompromising
stance. In June 1971, an Arab guerrilla attack on an
Israeli-bound tanker at the narrow inlet to the Red
Sea dramatically illustrated Iran's fears for the Gulf
and the Shah often referred to this in subsequent
^Quoted from an interview in the Indian maga-
zine BLITZ , as reported in Times (London), 29 June 1971,
5 Leonard Mosely, Power Play: Oil in the Middle
East (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 370.
52 Times (London), 15 February 1971, p. 7. _j
conversations with the British Representatives. 53 Yet
most defense experts would agree, as did Sir William,
that Iranian occupation of the islands were militarily
superfluous, given the magnitude of the Persian arsenal
based at Bandar Abbas near the Straits of Hormuz. It
seemed that the Shah was using this strategic defense
argument as a vehicle to press what had become a point
of honor. 54
Sir William could well sympathize with the Shah's
dilemma, for he too was captive to a precarious politi-
cal commitment. His country was not only morally
obliged to support the Arab claims, she was still
legally commited to protect her charges in Sharjah and
> Ras al-Khaima from any foreign encroachments. Both
British officials and the two shaikhs directly involved
dreaded the political and economic repercussions of
losing Arab soil and, not incidentally, its potential
underlying oil deposits. 55 Yet paradoxically, the
53 See the New York Times , 15 June 1971, p. 7,
for report on the incident.
54 Luce, interview. The Times (London) , 20 May
1971, p. 6, editorially concludes that the Shah had
staked his personal prestige on a favorable resolution
of the islands issue.
55 Times (London) , 16 December 1970 (Special
Report: Britain and the Gulf), p. 1. ,
rulers of the other seven shaikhdoms attached little
importance to the island problem. In part this was due
to Shaikh Saqr's personal unpopularity^ and they also
realized that Abu Musa would be successfully negotia-
ted. As Bahrain's U.N. diplomat, Karim Shakr,
explained his Government's position, the islands dis-
pute in no way jeopardized Bahraini integrity. 58 John
Duke Anthony points out that thirteen of the Arab
League member states also refused to get involved.
This left only Iraq, the perennial gadfly, to stand
with Shaikh Saqr against the Iranians. " Given such
feeble support for the Arab cause, Sir William en-
countered a purposeful Shah in his quest for a diplo-
matic solution to the confrontation considered so
inemicable to British interests.
It was from this unenviable bargaining position
57 Moseley, Power Play , p. 370.
Interview. Author Joseph Malone intimates
Britain's restraint stemmed from a secret arrangement
made in relation to the U.N. settlement of the Iranian
claim. See, The Arab Lands of Western Asia (Englewood
Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Kail, Inc., 1973), p. 241.
59 John Duke Anthony, "The Union of Arab
Amirates," Middle East Journal 26 (Summer 1972),
that Sir William proposed a compromise to the Shah.
Iranian troops could be stationed on the islands, while
Arabian sovereignty was left, at least theoretically,
intact.? The British Government tacitly endorsed
such an arrangement. Sir Alec Douglas-Home warned a
May 1971 CENTO gathering in Ankara, "new naval and
military presences /the Soviets/ are materializing
round the periphery of the CENTO area are profoundly
changing the strategic picture." Iranian Foreign
Minister Zahedi, at the same. meeting, reiterated the
need for "securing" the islands. ^1 Significantly,
U.S. Secretary of State Rusk used the same occasion to
call for "regional states" to take responsibility for
the Persian Gulf.
Within two weeks the Iranians responded to the
encouragement, though more forcefully than had been
anticipated. Officially protesting the presence of
British air and naval operations near the "Iranian
islands" of Abu Musa and Tunbs , Tehran threatened to
60 Times (London), 15 February 1971, p. 1.
61 Both quoted in the Times (London), 1 May 1971,
fire on any planes that violated its airspace in the
future. 00 Once again Luce witnessed the raising of
Arab-Iranian tensions. Kuwait's Al-Rai al-Amm decried
Iran's use of "force, controversy and domination
attempts" which the Kuwait Daily News had termed
"modern piracy."^ 4
Such realistic criticism reinforced Sir
William's consistent attempts to convince the Shah that
a military solution was undesirable. Still, the
Persian monarch continued to brandish the growing
Iranian muscle. Quite possibly, he was the victim of
short-sighted, self-serving advisors, who found it
expedient to play down any potential Arab reaction.
Sir William notes that the Shah did not seem to
appreciate the danger until September 1971, and only
then did he opt for a compromise on Abu Musa." This
may explain the sudden shift in the Iranian official
statements, from being highly critical of Britain's
sacking for the Arabs to crediting Whitehall as the
honest broker in seeking a solution to the
63 Times (London) , 10 May 1971, p. 5.
64 Cited in Times (London), 2 July 1971, p. 8.
6 ^Sir William Luce, interview.
disagreement. 00 It is also instructive to notice that
Iran's Foreign Minister Zahedi was replaced by Dr.
Abbus Khalatbari during this same time frame. What-
ever the cause for conversion, during the waning
weeks of Britain's presence the Shah evinced a new
flexibility over the islands issue.
Often with Gulf politics, tough talk conceals
accomodations. On 10 November 1971, Foreign Minister
Khalatbari bluntly denied that Iran would negotiate the
sovereignty of the islands. ° Sharjah's Ruler, Shaikh
Khalid agitatedly rejected a proposal that
affected our sovereignty and demanded selling
the island, otherwise it would be taken by
force. Our reply to Luce was that we would
never give up our sovereignty and right to
the island. "
But by mid-November, the Shah and the Shaikh had
"agreed to disagree" on the sovereignty issue, settling
on the military occupation compromise first suggested
by the British ten months earlier. ?0 Sir William, on
66 Times (London), 5 October 1971, p. 11.
°^R. M. Burrell, The Persian Gulf (New York:
Library Press, 1972), p. 44.
Quoted in the Times (London), 2 November 1971,
^ Sir William Luce, interview. —I
completion of a six-day visit to Tehran, could finally
say, "Iran and Britain have sorted out their differences
. . . The shaikhdoms can now form their federation."'!
Shaikh Khalid probably succumbed to the finan-
cial inducements: fel.5 million per year from Iran
until his oil revenues reached £3 million annually, and
the | promise to share equally in any oil profits derived
from Abu Musa's territorial waters. In exchange, the
Iranians were officially welcomed to the island by
the Ruler on 30 November 1971. 2 Shaikh Saqr, one of
the wiliest characters in the Gulf, would have gladly
accepted a similar disposition, but never had the
chance. Instead, his islands fell to a Persian force
majeure. Contradicting widespread reports that the
irrascible old Shaikh's quixotic nostalgia for the
ancient Qawasim glories combined with a futile hope
for an oil strike had prompted his obdurate stance, 7 ^
^Quoted in the Times (London) , 18 November
1971, p. 7.
72 Times (London) , (Speical Report on the UAE) ,
21 December 1971, p. 1.
73 See Mosley, Power Play , pp. 369-371. Also
Times (London) (Special Report on the UAE) , 21
December 1971, p. I. Michael Burrell, interview, con-
curs with this explanation.
Sir William maintains that Saqr "bent over backwards"
to forestall the clash. It was the Shah who "dug his
heels," convinced to the end that the Tunbs were un-
questionably Iranian. ^^ Several observers have implied
since that there was British collusion in the Iranian
invasion of the islands, but most fell short of
Leonard Mosley. He alleged a Luce-Saqr conspiracy to
effect a face-saving martyrdom of the police unit
assigned to defend the Tunbs. Sir William convin-
cingly states that he warned Shaikh Saqr to remove his
men from harm's way, ° and can only wonder at what
Britain had to gain by the inevitable bloodshed that
ensued. A more likely explanation is that Saqr had
overcommited himself to resist, and risked his men to
complete the scenario of the latter-day Grecian
tragedy. 77 There can be no doubt however that Shaikh
'^Sir William Luce, interview. Mr. A. Reeve,
interview, added that Shaikh Saqr could have accepted
financial compensation equal to that given Shaikh
Khahid, but Iran would not consider even a tacit
recognition of Res al Khamir's claim to sovereignty.
Leonard Mosley, Power Play , pp. 372-373.
7 °Sir William Luce, interview.
'According to Sir William Luce, interview,
Saqr's refusal to withdraw his forces cost the lives of
one Arab policeman and three Iranian naval
Saqr "gained from the propaganda portraying him as
a quasi-martyr for refusing to the end to concede the
right of Iran to occupy a part of the Arab homeland." 78
Considering Iran's military capacity and her oft-
expressed intention to use it to secure the islands,
the question of Britain's role in the Tunbs occupa-
tion becomes at best academic. At Persopolis in
October 1971, the world witnessed an unprecedented
display of Iranian opulence. The ostensible purpose
for the controversial celebration had been to commemor-
ate the twenty-fifth centennial of the Persian Empire.
The fact that the dignitaries assembled nine years after
the logical birthday, the anniversary of the capture
of Babylon, and two months before Britain's withdrawal,
provides the clue to the real purpose for the soiree.
The Shah was parading his power and, as The Economist
added, "... the demonstration of power is generally
followed by the use of it." 79 Britain's emissary had
arranged the Abu Musa settlement and, once he failed
to persuade the Shah to compromise on Tunbs, the
78 Anthony, p. 2 85.
"After Persopolis," The Economist 241
23 October 1971) : 15-16.
British no longer played an active role in high Gulf
politics. After the Iranians took the island the
official spokesman for Her Majesty's Government
apologized meekly, protesting that his country "could
hardly be expected to exercise her treaty responsi-
bilities on the final day." 80 The torch had been
passed, and, as Sir William Luce himself once saw fit
to put down, "to fill a power vacuum effectively re-
quires the ultimate sanction of some degree of military
Regional Detente — The Arabs
No such logical rationalization is possible when
describing Britain's policy or part in resolving the
other international claim to the shaikhdoms ' land, that
which centered on the Buraimi oasis. (See Chapter I,
pp. 13-15 ) Unlike the islands dispute, where the
inherent dangers in an Arab-Persian conflict was
obvious and the utility of British mediation defined,
Buraimi was deeply enmeshed in the matrix of Arabian
Quoted in the Times (London), 1 December 1971,
81 "Britain's Withdrawal from the Middle East
and the Persian Gulf," p. 6.
peninsular politics. The issue involved traditional ~~T
rivalries and oil profits, always an explosive combi-
nation. Yet the days when Britain could impose even
the status-quo were over.
On the other hand, the Buraimi oasis problem
could not be ignored. In May 1970, King Feisal had
unexpectedly renewed his claim, demanding a plebescite
and several territorial adjustments affecting large
tracts of Abu Dhabi territory. 82 Abu Dhabi's Ruler,
Shaikh Zayd, was born at Buraimi and was governor of the
area when last the Saudis pressed their claim in the
1950' s. He had vowed "at all costs to hold onto it,"
and indeed this was the raison d'etre for his im-
pressive Abu Dhabi Defense Force. A massive experi-
mental project sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Department
of Agriculture had already transformed "the whole
character" of the oasis, in mute testimony to Shaikh
Zayd's intransigence. 84 The personal animosity
82 Times (London) 16 July 1970, p. 4.
^"Countdown for a Federation," The Economist
(Special Survey of the Arabian Peninsula) 235 ( 6 June
1970): 34. The Economist shared Shaikh Zayd's view
that Buraimi was essential to his state.
84 See J. H. Stevens, "Changing Agricultural
Practices in an Arabian Oasis," The Geographical
Journal 136, (September 1970): 410-413.
mutually shared by the two Arab Rulers exacerbated
the seemingly irreconcilable situation, and had been
reinforced most recently during Shaikh Zayd's "dis-
asterous visit" to King Feisal's court in May 1970. 85
Epitomizing their Government's new Gulf role,
Sir William Luce and his colleagues could only propose
compromise. They hoped somehow to avoid what would be
a catastrophic confrontation. The British suggested a
plan to provide Saudi Arabia an access strip of land
to the sea for a pipeline corridor between Qatar and
Abu Dhabi. 00 They then tried tirelessly to persuade r
King Feisal to drop his demands which threatened to
finish the oil rich shaikhdom of the Bani Yas and,
with it, any hopes for a union of the other emirates.
Some writers have linked the Buraimi dispute
with a British-engineered palace coup in nearby Oman.
There in July 1970, the thirty-year-old son of Said bin
85 Times (London) (Special Report: Britain and
the Gulf), 16 December 1970, p. I, (A. M. Rendel) .
86 Times (London), 28 September 1970, p. 4.
87 See Leonard Mosley, Power Play , pp. 362-
368, for a colorful account of the coup. He errors in
assigning a major role to Sir William Luce . Besides
Luce was only appointed as Special Emissary to the
Gulf after the events in Oman had run their course.
Taimer replaced his father as Sultan, alledgedly
instigated by Britain to facilitate a peaceful Buraimi
settlement. This view overemphasizes and incorrectly
isolates the oasis conflict, $h e Omani action was
taken in a much wider context. Internal security in
Muscat and Oman apathetically medieval sultanate with
borders inextricably mixed with the Trucial States, had
deteriorated so much that overall regional stability
was threatened. (See Chapter IV) . Five days before
the overthrow, The Economist declared:
The Government can no longer afford to shut
its eyes to the dangers of the situation in
Muscat. The Sultan and his advisors will
have to be persuaded to go before it is too
late for an alternative ruler to hold the
country together. 89
Just as the conflicting Abu Musa and Tunbs claims had
to be resolved before Great Britain's withdrawal, the
creation of a viable political structure in the Gulf
also necessitated correcting the Omani aberation.
88 See G. L. Bondarevskiy , "The Continuing
Western Interest in Oman as Seen from Moscow," New
Middle East 35 (August 1971): 14.
89 "Sir Alec Up the Gulf," The Economist 236
(18 July 1970) : 14-15. Iranian Foreign Minister Zahedi
called for the replacement of the Sultan of Oman, who,
like Shakhbut in Abu Dhabi a few years before, was
obstructing necessary reforms. Times (London), 13
April 1970, p. 4.
Britain had a distinct role to play in each of these
settlements, but Burairai was integrally bound up in
the Arab order. British officials could advise and
even assist in its working-out, but they could not
resolve it. Instead, the Burairai dispute was absorbed
in the more basic problem, forming indigenous govern-
mental institutions in the shaikhdoms that could accept
the British mantle. Accordingly, Britain directed her
subsequent efforts toward establishing those successor
90 Times (London), 11 February 1971, p. 12.
(Paul Martin) reports King Faisal's willingness to
drop the Buraimi claim in exchange for the coopera-
tion of the nine rulers in forming a federation.
ESTABLISHING THE SUCCESSOR STATES
The two major British political parties had
participated, both as the Opposition and as the Govern-
ment, in Britain's withdrawal from the Persian Gulf.
Each influenced events uniquely, sometimes reinforcing
but oftimes diminishing the diplomatic implementation of
stated British policies. Foreign Office initiatives
could never be divorced from the influences of domestic
politics but, with the relatively apolitical turnover of
Britain's governmental responsibilities in the Gulf, the
diplomats could and did execute the actual exchange of
duties. In the Fall of 1970, Sir William Luce recommen-
ded that Whitehall intensify the British effort in
assisting the federation of Gulf Emirates. A project
analysis was undertaken to decide the scenario for com-
pleting the withdrawal process by 1971. Practical goals
were identified, specific tasks defined and priorities
assigned. Those governmental agencies expected to assume
once-British functions were identified, and the need to
create certain replacement institutions was
established. 1 ' ~f
The Federation Founders
But the success of this ambitious if belated
scheme to systematize the withdrawal was predicated upon
the existence of one or more successor states, to take over
from) the British, yet this was by no means assured. As
late; as February 1971, British officials in the Gulf
were reportedly "in despair" at the lack of progress
toward a union of shaikhdoms, and an ominous pessimism
even pervaded Arab circles. Radio Cairo had consistently
agitated against the British presence, reflecting
Egyptian suspicions that the Conservative Government in-
tended to remain. As late as October 1970, it proclaimed
the need for a workable federation to deny Britain any
excuse for maintaining troops on Arab soil. But by
February 1971, the "Voice of the Arabs" program was
^The Project Manager, then Trucial States Desk
Officer, Mr. Anthony Reeve, discussed this specific
approach to expediting the withdrawal during an inter-
view in his British Embassy office, Washington, D.C., 1
October 1973. Patrick Bannerman, Middle East expert in
the Foreign Office Research Department confirmed this
during the interview held at his Whitehall office,
London, 25 October 1973.
Times (London), 11 February 1971, p. 11.
reduced to arguing that "total or partial withdrawal
from the region ought not to be carried out while the
region is divided." Cairo recognized that shaikhly
accord would serve the Arab cause, but the Rulers could
not accomodate their own diversity when allocating power
within a federation. This was the same obstacle that
had stymied the renowned Egyptian lawyer, Dr. Mohammad
Sanhuri Pasha, who had tried to propose some kind of
Union constitution since being hired for the job by the
Federation of Arab Emirates in July 196 8.
On his initial fact-finding trip to the Gulf in
August 1970, Special Envoy Luce perceived the sources of
discord inherent in uniting the nine emirates . Although
both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait wanted to see only one,
Arab successor state, Sir William recognized the basic
incompatibility between the larger and more sophisticated
shaikhdoms and their more primitive neighbors. This
conflict epitomized the traditional distain and distrust
that existed between city merchants and desert Bedouin,
3 Quoted by D. C. Watt, "The Arabs, the Heath
Government and the Future of the Gulf," New Middle East
30 (March 1971) : 26-27.
4 Times (London), 8 July 1968, p. 4. Sanhuri
authored Kuwait's constitution following Britain's
rich and poor, and within the tribal societies of the
Gulf. But the British Special Envoy also realized the
need to accomodate the views of Riyadh and Kuwait. They
wanted only one new Arab state in the Gulf and, without
their approval, no shaikhly polities left by Britain
could long survive her withdrawal.
Accordingly, British efforts to foster an
emirate union were coordinated with those of the two
Arab powers. A joint Saudi-Kuwaiti mission to help
forge a federation of nine shaikhdoms was formed at the
British behest in August 1970. Together, the Anglo-
Arab mediation teams urged the Rulers to accept a single
defense force, union financing on a per-capita income
basis, centralized developmental program management and
uniform customs and tariffs. A plan for federal repre-
sentation was also devised, wherein Sir William Luce
proposed to seat six delegates from Bahrain, Qatar, Abu
Dhabi and Dubai, to every four from Sharjah, Umm al
Quwain and Fujaira respectively. This raised much local
interest but, although vigorous consultations proceeded
Sir. William Luce, interview held at the Bath
Club, London, 24 October 1973.
6 Times (London), 11 February 1971, p. 12 (Paul
Ibid., Also Karim Shakr, Second Secretary of theJ
for months, even this concerted diplomatic offensive
eventually dissolved in the familiar caldron of emirate
Blame for the Anglo-Arab failure to move the
rulers has been ascribed to both parties. Saudi
Arabia's Prince Nawaf and Kuwait's Shaikh Sabah al Ahmed,
co-leaders of their joint mission, allegedly displayed
a condescending arrogance toward the eimirs . Most ob-
servers debate only the degree to which this complicated
the already sensitive negotiations. Sir William Luce
claimed that the Arab envoys had transformed two prob-
lems, capital location and assembly composition, into
seven. Shaikh Rashid al Makhtoum agreed that "Before
the mission set out there were only two obstacles to
federation . . ./but after the Sauid-Kuwaiti assis-
tance/ now there are eleven." The Dubai ruler also
expressed his disappointment with British officials a
month later. Complaining when the Tories announced
that they would adhere to the 1971 withdrawal deadline,
Bahrain Permanent Mission to the United Nations, inter-
' view at his office, New York, 25 September 1973.
Sir William Luce, interview.
9 Quoted in the Times (London), 11 February 1971,
I am prepared to be frank with them; but
they come along at times and say 'this is our
decision' and you are not given any opportunity
to express your own views. ^
The British diplomats assigned to the Gulf might legiti-
mately echo these sentiments - were they not professional-
ly constrained from doing so. As the previous chapters
described, they were themselves surprised by H. M.
Government on several occasions.
Finding fault was easier than forming a federation,
and serious fissures began to appear in the foundation
laid in 1968. Ras al Khaima's, enigmatic Shaikh Saqr
hinted darkly that he might bring the four smallest
shaikhdoms under the rule of the Sultan of Muscat: "Our
passports do not say 'Ras al Khaimal' They say Oman
. . . we may find that the future of Oman and Omanis
lies there." The Times reported that Abu Dhabi, Qatar
10 Times (London), 3 March 1971, p. 6.
^Quoted in the Times (London) , 11 February 1971,
p. 12. Patrick Bannerman, of the Foreign Office Research
Department noted that while Saqr's remarks make geogra-
phical sense, the extended British relationship in the
Trucial States had made any such union politically in-
feasible, interview. Also see, J. C. Wilkinson, "The
Oman of South-East Arabia," The Geographical Journal 139
(September 1971): 361-371.
and Dubai's Shaikh Raschid lent credence to these re-
ports castigating the Bahrainis for their intransigence, ,,
and adding that "they simply don't want a union." 12
Still, Gulf savants tended to discount the possibility
of Qatar voluntarily diluting her independence in any
sized union without a corresponding gesture from
Bahrain. Most agreed with Shaikh Raschid 's opinion of
Bahrain's commitment to federate, but fully expected the
regimes in Manama and Doha to remain unfettered.
In point of political fact, Bahrain's Shaikh Isa
lad no option. Despite his desire to appease the
Saudis, his public opinion solidly opposed joining any
but a Bahrain-dominated union. That was clearly un-
acceptable to the other eight shaikhdoms. As one corres-
pondent wrote, "A contrary decision /by Shaikh Isa7
would almost certainly have landed his government in an
upsurge of unrest or worse . . .**■* In view of the
impasse, Sir William Luce forced a decision from the
April 1971, finally saw a Bahraini mission
12 Luce, interview. Also see Times (London) ,
20 May 1971, p. 6.
Times (London) (Special Report: Bahrain) , 16
December 1971, p. I. (A. M. Rendel) . Also Karim
dispatched to the Riyadh court 'to give King Feisal the
news he dreaded: there would be no federation of nine. 14
It was a difficult assignment for the delegation.
Themselves dependent on Saudi crude oil to feed their
BAPCO refinery, the Bahrainis had every incentive to
appease their benefactor. Both traditional custom and
realistic politics tightened that economic bond. There-
fore, when the head of the House of Saud requested that
they defer publicizing the break for yet another un-
specified interval, the delegates were disheartened.
They knew there could be no turning back, and any delay
would surely prove an unpleasant limbo. The Bahrainis
ultimately convinced King Feisal of their precarious
position, mixing impassioned entreaties and reasoned
arguments. Only then did the King consent to limit the
span to eight weeks. 5
The Al Khalifa emissaries used that time to
solicit support from the al Sabah in Kuwait. Family
ties and a common interest in prolonging traditional
rule in the region encouraged alliance between the two
Sir William Luce had preempted them by a matter
of days, but Feisal refused to concede the failure then.
(See Chapter Three, p. , footnote 89) .
Sir William Luce, interview.
most: populous Gulf shaikhdoms. ' Great Britain shared
their stake in mutual security and tacitly approved the
venture. Her Majesty's diplomats discerned no threat
to postwithdrawal stability in an independent Qatar, the
economically secure Wahabi state contiguous with Saudi
Arabia, but the seven Trucial States needed help*
Accordingly , the Foreign Office devoted its efforts to
resuscitating their Union, while the Saudis evinced a
benign if haughty neglect of subsequent shaikhly
affairs. 16 Sir William Luce pressed to remove the
Iranian obstacle raised with the islands dispute (See
Chapter Three) and Sir Geoffry' Arthur accelerated the
turnover of functional responsibilities. '
The Retrocession of Legal
The Anglo-Saxon addiction to legalistic precision
spawned the most complicated project for the Political
1 Times (London), 20 May 1971, p. 6. Also see
"The Gulf: If 1 Not Nine, Maybe Seven," The Economist
239 (12 June 1971): 40.
1 Sir Geoffry Arthur, Under-Secretary for
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, interview held at his
Whitehall office, London 24 October 1973.
*This phrase was uniformly used by British sources to
describe the process described below.
Residency, the retrocession of jurisdiction in the
Gulf. Through that office, Britain had exercised legal
authority over Commonwealth Moslems and all non-Moslems
in the protectorates. An intricate matrix of laws,
legal precedents and commercial codes had evolved and
been integrated into each shaikhdom's individual Sharia
system. In effect, the Rulers had surrendered certain
sovereign rights to Great Britain, an anachronistic
legacy that was already being rectified by progressive
British officials prior to the 1968 announcement. But
the resumption of emirate legal perogatives was an
agonizingly slow process. Suitable courts had to be
established, procedural codes drawn up, and previous
judgments (reached under the British judiciary) vali-
dated. Most laws were retroceded by one major
exception was - Qatar. There, following her premature
declaration of imminent independence in September 1971,
British jurisdiction over Pakistani Moslems (as a social
class) was passed to Doha's auspices.
Retrocession proceded in a piecemeal, often
tedious sequence. Each ruler's legal advisor, an Arab
but not always a native of the shaikhdom concerned,
Sir Geoffry Arthur, interview.
would draft a tentative replacement law for one cover-
ing a similar legal aspect under the British court.
This would then be submitted in Arabic to British
officials for review. The law would be translated
and its workability assessed. Then the appropriate
shaikh would be advised of any necessary amendments.
Britain conceived of her role as advisory and not
approbatory, attempting to build in safeguards against
abuses of the new and untried regulations. Since the
legal innovations would also have to conform with inter-
national standards, British advice and experience was
especially useful. The issue of capital punishment,
abolished in the United Kingdom but very much in the
Moslem legal tradition, also posed a difficult challenge
to British counselors seeking to balance the desert's
harsh justice with more modern penal moderation. In
all cases, once Anglo-Arab concert was achieved, the
Political Resident on Bahrain would announce his "find"
and publish what was termed a Queen's Regulation. This
notified those concerned that a specific British juris-
diction would cease by a certain date, usually two
^Originally by the Foreign Office, but as the
volume increased, this was contracted to a commercial
firm in Beirut.
months later. u '
The timeliness of this legal turnover varied with
each state. In Bahrain, a legislative committee under
the able Hussein al Bahama and Said Jassim al Arayadh
drew on Kuwaiti and Egyptian precedents to enact a
sophisticated follow-on system. x In Qatar, where
Sharia Law prevailed exclusively, retrocession of juris-
diction was completed only the day before independence,
with more than a degree of "undue haste." The Politi-
cal Residency in the Gulf had conducted what were in
effect the final Capitulation Courts on earth, and the
successful retrocession of legal jurisdiction carried
profound and historic implications.
The Shaikhdoms Assume Responsibility
for Their Foreign Affairs -
Transferring Britain's conduct of foreign affairs
on behalf of her Protectorates, also of significant
moment in the wider context of Middle East history, was
°Mr. Anthony Reeve, former Foreign Office
Trucial States Desk Officer (1970-1972) , interview held
at his British Embassy Office, Washington, D.C., 1
Times (London) (Special Report: Bahrain) , 16
December 1971, p. II, (W. M. Ballantyne) .
Sir Geoffry Arthur, interview.
less exacting a process. This imprecision related more
to the activity being exchanged than to the actors in-
volved in the process. As elsewhere in the functional
turnover, the pace varied with the shaikhdom's relative
All fell short of Bahrain, where a department of
foreign affairs had been formed late in 19b8. It
operated under the title of "Special Office" until the
island's independence. Prospective foreign service
officers were sent to observe' diplomatic posts in
Kuwait, Cairo and Cyprus (another independent island
state with a potent national minority) , and to the head-
quarters of the Arab League. Other Bahrainis acquired
field experience through actual service in Kuwaiti and
Saudi Arabian embassies. Significantly, this program
was not prompted by the British advisors , but was
"strictly a domestic initiative. ""
This manifests an essential change in foreign
policy perspectives and objectives for the shaikhdoms.
Where British interests had previously influenced
positions taken and procedures followed in Gulf foreign
Karim Shakr, interview. Patrick Bannerman,
interview confirmed this from the British side.
affairs, henceforth Arab ends would be paramount. 24 The
Foreign Office accepted this and made no effort to
"create bodies for administrative staffs for the
/shaikhdoms ' J foreign offices." Britain did render
assistance in more technical, consular and international,
areas. Joining the United Nations, affiliating with the
World Bank and participating in the World Health Organi-
zation were uniformly accomplished by the shaikhdoms
under British guidance. Her Majesty's expertise was less
effective in handing over consular affairs. That ranged
from "smooth" in Bahrain - " to chaotic in the Union of
Arab Emirates, where the time-honored "No Objection
Certificate" was going for about fifty Bahraini Dinars by
Other British-inspired governmental institutions
received similar short shrift, as the Arabs showed an
2 Phillip Griffen, Charge d' Affairs at the Ameri-
can Embassy to the Union of Arab Emirates, in an inter-
view held at the U.S. Department of State, Washington,
D.C., 17 August 1973, acknowledged that this "complete
break" in the conduct of foreign policy occurred after
the Treaty System ended.
2 ^Karim Shakr, interview.
^This reflected both inexperience and nascent
corruption within the system. _j
increasing tendency to discard rather than transform the^
old structures. The Trucial States Council, since 1965 s
earmarked by the British as the nucleus for local self-
government, was simply replaced by the Federation's
Supreme Council in 1968. Despite assurances from Union
President, Shaikh Zayd, to maintain and utilize the
experienced staff of the Trucial States Development
Office, its operating funds trickled to a stop and its
highly competent staff personnel were forced to seek
employment elsewhere. 27 Viewed by the Arabs as pri-
marily a British agency, the Rulers had allowed its
functions to be absorbed by a variety of Union
Britain's waning influence was also apparent in
the economic realm. For years her Commercial Officers
in the Gulf had advocated the creation of a common
currency to replace the Qatar-Dubai Riyal and Bahrain
Dinar (BD1=QR10 and BDl=US$2 .11) . This advice was
Patrick Bannerman, interview.
29 United States Department of State, Background
Notes ; United Arab Emirates , Department of State Pub.
no. 7901 rev. (1972), p. 3.
apparently accepted by the nine rulers, who appointed '
Qatar to supervise development of a federal monetary
system in the early stages of the federation. But
later, not only was the dual currency criticized by
Arab fiscal authorities, but representative voices
in Gulf financial circles began to question even the
sterling linkage to any Union specie. Both the Dinar
and the Riyal were bound to the Pound under identical
regulations, and the same economic dislocations that
forced Britain * s withdrawal were aggravating the already
rampant inflation in the oil-booming Gulf. By 1971, the
outmoded and inadequate dual currency system could only
account for one-third of the total money and ten per-
cent of the total economic assets or liabilities within
the Union. Still, British advisors could not persuade
the Trucial State rulers to meet even the minimum need
for a currency and credit board endowed with the
"urgently needed powers of a central banking institution
to cope with pressing problems. " J ^ Each Ruler hoarded
30 Times (London), 4 June 1968, p. 5.
31 Times (London), 10 June 1969, p. 16, (Hazim
32 Times (London) (Special Report: Union of Arab
Emirates), 21 December 1971, p. Ill, (Adnan B. Mahhouk) .
his wealth and jealously guarded financial perogatives.
Shaikh Raschid of Dubai, where the banks were "almost
an unpaid arm of the State" because there was no state
office of finance, was the most ardent proponent of
fiscal autonomy. His shaikhdom helped mint one of the
two coins of the realm. Classically illustrating the
political implications of the coinage issue, Shaikh
Raschid drew on all his renowned cunning to frustrate
the trend toward commercial unity.
British council was consistently rejected across
the economic spectrum, as the Rulers regressed into
familiar behavior patterns that placed a premium on
status symbols instead of coordinated industrial develop-
ment. The fate of the Trucial States Development Office
portended a wasteful race to duplicate prestige facili-
ties. Four fully-equipped, modern international airports
(at Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain, with Sharjah
planning yet another) were in operation before the
Treaty System ended. Two major port development projects
underway in Bahrain and Dubai were economically defensible.
Financial Times 16 December 1971, p. 13
(Richard Johns) . Also see Michael Field's article titled
Rivalry between states leads to lack of cooperation and
wasteful development," Times (London) (Special Report),
16 December 1970, p. III.
These were being matched at immense cost by Sharjah and
Abu Dhabi, both of which were economically superfluous
and only indirectly related to and not needed for the
shipment of oil. A Saudi Arabian cement plant could
have been expanded to meet regional requirements, but
Qatar, Dubai and Ras al Khaima elected to build their
own. | Abu Dhabi planned to follow suit. 34 This same
imitative propensity led Qatar to prepare a feasibility
study on a $100 million aluminium plant within a year of
her independence. Bahrain was already producing 120,000
tons of aluminium a year from its Aluminium Bahrain
(ALBA) smelters (British companies are major shareholders
in ALBA) , and the paucity of human resources in Qatar
simply compounded the folly in planning such labor-
intensive industries. 5 Obviously, more than British
diplomats were needed to instill the Gulf nabobs with the
political acumen and will to coordinate expenditures and
effect necessary development.
London's diminishing influence also affected
34 Times (London) (Special Report) , 16 December
1970, p. III. (Michael Field) . Qatar, Ministry of In-
formation, Qatar into the Seventies 1973, pp. 115-139 and
also UAE, Ministry of Information, UAE First Anniversary
1972 , pp. 26-27.
35 Times (London), 15 May 1972, p. 1. For facts
on ALBA see "Industry," Middle East Sketch (15 December
British trade relationship with the Gulf states. Once
compliant Shaikhs dealt daily with their British ad-
visors, who steadily provided information and contracts.
Diplomatic and commercial attaches supplied British
businessmen what London's Chamber of Commerce
euphemistically termed "invaluable guidance and assis-
tance." 36 Naturally, Whitehall sought to offset the
loss of that implicit advantage in her "special relation-
ship," and to devise some formula for prolonging her
local economic predominance. Efforts to "continue some
exceptional British connection were hampered, however,
by the general reluctance of the Shaikhs to make basic
commitments toward federation. In 1968, the rulers
established a Committee for Customs and Trade and inacted
a provision barring approval of its recommendations
until the Union was formed. This prolonged the dual
currencies and five separate tariff scales that, in
themselves, inhibited the steps to federation. The
Catch 22 predicament precluded negotiations which might
1972) : 21-28.
3*> A Survey for Businessmen; States of the Arabian
Gulf (London: Chamber of Commerce, 1969) , p. 6.
3 ^Times_ (London) (Special Report) , 16 December
1970, p. Ill, (Michael Field).
have transformed Britain's beneficial entre to the Gulf '
markets under the Treaty System to one consistent with
the fully independent status of the new Arab states .
This also coincided with the rulers' growing re-
calcitrance toward any foreign manipulation. Even during
withdrawal, British business interests had to. fend for
themselves in a highly competitive environment. As the
Washington Post put it:
/The/ Persian Gulf governments, once door-
mats of the multinational business world, /were7
rapidly changing not only their own societres
but also the structure of the international oil
trade . . ." 38
In response, Britain's relative portion of the
import and export markets of Qatar and the Trucial
States had dropped, 9 though in Bahrain she maintained
her proportional domination. This difference springs
38 Washington Post , 22 July 1973, p. Cl, (Jim
39 Qatar, Ministry of Information, Qatar into the
Seventies 1973, pp. 115-139, and UAE, Ministry of In-
formation, UAE First Anniversary 1972, pp. 26-27, and
pp. 7-10. The Financial Times , 2 5 April 1972, p. 25.
Also see A Survey for Businessmen; States of the
Arabian Gulf , pp. 30, 33, 35, and the Times (London)
(Special Report: Britain and the Gulf) , 16 December
See Bahrain, Ministry of Information, The State
of Bahrain (1971), p. 19. Also The Financial Times , 25
April 1972, p. 25, for statistics.
more from the maturity and diversification of Bahrain's
commerce than any adroit British maneuvering during
withdrawal. In 1969, Her Majesty's Export Credits
Guarantee Department rated the tiny shaikhdom as high as
any nation "in the third world and the £53 million cover
given for the (ALBA) smelter was the highest for any
-single project." Thus Britain's economic edge in
Bahrain, as in the other eight shaikhdoms , was simply a
function of her long business experience in the Gulf.
This was not an overly significant advantage given the
nature and rapidity of change in that marketplace.
Whitehall's marginal performance in the economic
sphere can be somewhat justified given the customary
passivity of the Foreign Office in strictly commercial
affairs. On the other hand, Gulf stability had been the
raison d'etre for the British military presence, and its
Financial Times , 25 April 1972, p. 25. (Richard
Johns) . For details on the Aluminium Bahrain (ALBA) pro-
ject see "Industry: Industrial diversification,"
Middle East Sketch 1 (15 December 1972) : 21-26.
Significantly, both interviews with U.S. Charge d' Affairs
Griffin and Foreign Office Research expert Bannerman
brought out the critical shortage of trained people
throughout the shaikhdoms and in particular within the
Union of Arab Emirates.
continuance was the practical objective of the British ~^
withdrawal policy. Achieving that would be no mean
feat. Volatile economic, educational and political
disparities abounded. The Middle East's Arab-Israeli
conflict spilled over most tangibly, as 100,000 uprooted
Palestinians lived along the Arab shores of the Persian
Gulf, 42 and more subtly in its disquieting impact on
popular Arab attitudes toward western national and
commercial interests. Accordingly, Whitehall harness-
ed its considerable talents and experience to bequeath
an effective security force for the shaikhdoms .
General Willoughby's report had established the
42 This figure was obtained from panelist Dr.
Hirsham Sharabi's individual comment, The Gulf: Implica -
tions of British Withdrawal (Washington, D.C.: George-
town University Center for Strategic International
Studies, 1969), p. 21. Alvin J. Cottrell, "Conflict in
the Persian Gulf," Military Review 51 (February 1971):
40, tacitly acknowledges this inter-relationship of
Palestine and the Gulf, noting that "the political
acceptability of a U.S. presence or even visits in the
Gulf must increasingly be measured in relationship to the
U.S. position in the Arab-Israeli conflict."
For a further exposition see the testimony
of Mr. Lee Dinsmore, U.S. Consul General of Dahran,
Saudi Arabia, and U.S. representative to the Gulf
shaikhdoms and Oman during the British withdrawal period,
contained in the U.S. Congress, House, Committee on
Foreign Affairs, U.S. Interests in and Policy Toward
the Persian Gulf, Hearings Before the Subcommittee on the
Near East , 92nd Congress 2nd session, 1972, pp. 107-133.
ground rules for this aspect of withdrawal, stressing
the threat of internal subversion and prescribing that
the Trucial Oman Scouts (T.O.S.) "become the nucleus of
the Union's armed forces."* 4 As noted in Chapter Two,
most of the rulers insisted on erecting individual
armies. In Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain the Order of
battle quickly surpassed the modest levels envisioned
by Vfilloughby. The Shaikhs' apprehension over
British withdrawal was almost palpable, as they antici-
pated the loss of insulating foreign troops with its
concomitant domestic and international ramifications .
The most volatile shaikhdom, Bahrain, had been
the scene of an ti -Government riots in 1956 and 1966,
and more serious disruptions were in store (March 1972).
Iraqi-backed subversives, particularly among the
Shi'ite elements in the politically sensitized labor
class, made the island a "hotbed of radicalism."
John Duke Anthony, "The Union of Arab Amirates,"
M iddle East Journal 26 (Summer 1972) : 274.
45 R. Beasley, "The Vacuum that Must be Filled — the
Gulf and Iran's Military Potential Assessed," New Middle
32 (May 1971) : 38. Also see UAE, Ministry of Informa-
tion, United Arab Emirates: First Anniversary (2
December 1972) , pp. 7-10, and Qatar, Ministry of Infor-
mation, Qatar into the Seventies (May 1973) , pp. 20-26,
46 The Financial Times , 25 April 1972, p. ,
They formed the Bahrain National Liberation Front, a
clandestine movement with representative offices in
Moscow, Beirut, Cairo and Damascus. A rival revolu-
tionary group , composed mainly of Sunni Arabs , had
Cairo's support. British intelligence was well aware of
the potential for insurrections, leading British Ambassa-
dors! and Political Agents in the Gulf to seek some way
to "incubate" the shaikhdoms through the critical
transition period. Previous military actions on behalf
of Kuwait, following that state's independence in 1961,
had set the precedent for a similar post-withdrawal
commitment in the lower Gulf. °
Whitehall reasoned that, with "the virtual
i certainty that the Soviet Union will seek to replace the
British presence with her own," Moscow would actively
25. (Richard Johns) .
Times (London), 12 January 1969, p. 9. (Win-
ston S. Churchi-1) , Sir William Luce, interview, con-
firmed this intitial predilection to adhere to a
Kuwait-style scenario, extending the blanket of protec-
tion to all the shaikhdoms. Also see Sir William Luce,
"Britain and the Persian Gulf," Round Table 227 (July
1967) : 277-283.
Times (London), 12 January 1969, p. 9. (Winston
S . Churchill) .
promote an insurgency to attain that end. 50 Suspicions^
of malevolency grew when a Soviet cruiser, a missile-
equipped destroyer and an anti-submarine escort called
at ports in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf in March
1968. Indeed, a Russian presence had already been
established in one of the Gulf states, Iraq. Through an
artful combination of arms supplies and economic
assistance to Baghdad, "a state of affairs in which
there is a certain state of dependence by the Ba ' ath
regime on Soviet help" had been created. 2 Some
observers scoffed at reports of Russian penetration,
noting that the only client (Iraq) was "chronically
coup-ridden and universally distrusted." But the
See The Gulf; Implications of British With-
drawal (Washington: Georgetown University Center for
Strategic and International Studies, 1969), pp. 110,
for elaboration of the strategic rationale behind this
alleged Soviet policy. Also see A. S. Becker and A. L.
Horelick, Soviet Policy in the Middle East r-504-FF
(Santa Monica : Rand Corp. , 1970), pp. 115, that traces
the evolution of the Soviet low-risk "spoiling" opera-
tion against the Baghdad Pact to their high-risk
policy of the 1970s.
-^Alvin J. Cottrell, "British Withdrawal from the
Persian Gulf," Military Review 50 (June 1970): 21.
52 Aryeh Y. Yodfat, "Russia's Other Middle East
Pasture: Iraq," New Middle East 38 (November 1971): 29.
53 Abraham S. Becker, Oil and the Persian Gulf in
Soviet Policy in the 1970s P-4743-1 (Santa Monica: Rand
Corp., 1972): 19.
Soviets were committed to a global naval capability.
Their corresponding diplomatic and military advances,
both in the eastern Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, had
indicated their adoption of an expansionist policy.
Their arrival in the Gulf was the logical extension of
If that did not suffice to disconcert the
British officials, the Chinese Communists had tossed
another red cap into the ring. The target for Peking's
attack and London's concern lay to the south of the
Trucial States, in Oman, where Sultan Said bin Taimur
ruled a medieval autocracy under British protection.
Since July 1953, Her Majesty's Royal Air Force (RAF)
and Army had assigned advisors to the Sultan's Armed
Forces (SAF) in exchange for base-rights at Salalah and
on the Indian Ocean island of Masirah. The British had
earlier helped to defeat tribal enemies of the Sultan
in central Oman (See Chapter One) , and more recently
were employed against the separatist movement in the
souther province of Dhofar.
^ 4 Lawrence L. Whettan, "The Military Consequences
of Mediterranean Super Power Parity," New Middle East
38 (November 1971) : 19.
"The World: His Highness' mercenaries," The
Economist 235 (4 April 1970): 31. Also see R. M.
The southern revolt had festered for several
years but, after British forces withdrew from the Aden
colony in 1967, a leftist regime took over the adjacent
Peoples' Republic of South Yemen and the situation
changed. Some cross-border ideological links were al-
ready formed in 1965, when the movement became the
Dhofar Liberation Front (DLP) , a Nasi vis t-leaning local
army. With the evolution of a Marxist government in Aden
by 1969, both the military and political aspects of the
rebellion intensified. The ideological orientation had
already been shifting to the left, and the 1967
Peoples* Party Congress changed the DLF name to the
Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab
Gulf (PFLOAG) . It was a Marxist-Leninist organization
dedicated to communizing Oman and the neighboring Gulf
shaikhdoms. The same year, thirty Dhofari rebel
Burrell, The Persian Gulf (New York: Library Press,
1972) , ppT 61-62. Also see James Morris, Sultan in
Oman (London: Faber & Faber, 1964) , for additional back-
An excellent account of this Marxist nation's
genesis and prospects is offered in Joe Stork, "Socialist
Revolution in Arabia," Middle East Research and Informa-
tion Project 15 (March 1973): 1-25.
See Statement of the Second Congress, Hamrin
(September 1968) , contained in Dhofar, Britain's
Colonial War in the Gulf: A Collection of Documents and
Articles (Londonl The Gulf Committee, January 1972) , "
leaders went to Peking for political and guerrilla war- '
fare training. 58 4
Area specialist, Dr. George Rentz, later testi-
fied that as many as "several hundred Chinese technicians
and advisors" in Southern Yemen could be behind the in-
filtration of a Chinese presence into Oman through the
PFLOAG. * Direct Moscow support was confined to
Pravda reports of PFLOAG* s popularity and of British
brutality, and an invitation was extended for a Dhofari
delegation to join the Soviet- Afro-Asian Solidarity
Committee in the USSR. 60
SAF Commander, Colonel Teddy Turnhill, admitted
that "this rebellion has become a revolutionary war
different from just a rebellion to force the government
to make changes. It sets out to change the entire
58 R. P. Owen, "The Rebellion in Dhofar — a Threat
to Western Interests in the Gulf," The World Today 29
(June 1973) : 267.
United States Congress, House, The Committee
on Foreign Affairs, The Middle East, 1971; The Need to
Strengthen the Peace , Hearings Before the Subcommittee on
the Near East , 92nd Congress, iirst session, ly/l, pp.
60 Stephen Page, The USSR and Arabia: The Develop -
ment of Soviet Policies and Attitudes Towards the
Countries of the Arabian Peninsula (London: Central
Asian Research Centra, 1971), p. ^16.
social structure." 61 Ironically, many of those rebel
soldiers had learned their martial arts in the Trucial
Oman Scouts (TOS) . They now practiced their lessons
with new equipment, including the ubiquitous Kalashnikov
automatic rifle, Chinese-made versions of the SKS semi-
automatic rifle and a host of other arms of Communist
manufacture. 62 In 1971, the British Officer-in-Charge
of Omani pacification expressed the view shared by most
British officials :
It is not so much the Dhofaris whom we are
fighting, but rather the Chinese and the Soviets,
united in a holy alliance to lay their hands
on the wealth of this part of the world. 6 ^
Great Britain's Security Role
One British response, widely criticized only for
its tardiness, was to remove the chief source of local
frustration, Oman's Sultan (See Chapter Two). Another
Times (London), 3 August 1970, p. 6. (Paul
62 R. M. Burrell, p. 62.
Le Monde (Paris) , 31 May 1971. Note the para-
dox between General Graham's assessment and that of
Crozier Brian, "Tactics of Terror — where Reds Will Strike
Next," U.S. News and World Report 70 (March 1971): 77,
who wrote: "If the British withdraw /from the Gulf
Shaikhdoms_7 . . . That will remove the one real
stabilizing factor in the area. Then we can expect a
free-for-all involving the Chinesa and the Russians." __[
was to stand aside (albeit relubtantly) as their desig-
nated custodial replacement, the Shah of Iran, joined
the new Omani Sultan, Qabus, in militarily suppressing
the Dhofari rebels. The seeds for the portentious
Persian re-entry onto the Arabian peninsula had been
fittingly sown during secret meetings between* Sultan
Qabujs and the Shah at the Persopolis celebration in
October 1971. 65
The main British counter to the revolutionary
menace was much subtler. Major General Sir John
Willoughby, author of the report that recommended defense
force composition for the Unioh of Arab Emirates, be-
lieved subversion to be the principal threat to Gulf
stability. Before accepting the U.A.E. advisory post,
he had provided the key to understanding how both the
British and the emirs would guard their security:
. . . /The Defense Commander/ will have the
three armed forces which, in support of civil
power, work as one force. But there is a fourth
service, part armed forces and part civil power,
64 See Chapter Two. Also "The World: His High-
ness* Mercenaries," p. 31. Also Col. V. J. Croizant,
"Stability in the Persian Gulf," U.S. Naval Institute
99 (July 1973): 49-59, describes Iran's military
ascension in the Gulf and acceptance of the formerly
British Gulf role.
R. P. Owen, p. 271. Also see Hossein
Amirsadeghi, "Iran's New Outward Look — An Authoritative
Report from Tehran," New Middle E-?st 35 (August
and that is the Intelligence Service. For
all purposes of support and allotment of
priorities, it is quite essential that the
Intelligence Service is accepted as the 4
senior service. . . . 6
This conception became reality as Britain executed her
As discussed in Chapter Two (pages 71-77)
the rulers had ignored General Willoughby's call for a
single Union Defense Force. Each chose instead to re-
tain his own dedicated unit. One British Trucial Oman
Scouts (TOS) officer pointed out a salutary offshoot
of that proliferation, noting "It is devilishly diffi-
cult to co-ordinate a coup in *six armies."" 7
The difficulty was compounded by the plethora
of British officers and expatriates left to occupy
responsible positions in the Gulf security establishment
after 1971. In this manner, Whitehall partially miti-
gated the deleterious military effects of force disper-
sion by furnishing British commanding officers for the
^ 6 Major General Sir John Willoughby, "Problems of
Counter-Insurgency in the Middle East," Journal of the
Royal United Services Institute 113 (May 1968): 108.
Quoted by Richard Johns, "The Emergence of the
United Arab Emirates , " Middle East International 21
(March 1973) : 9.
larger shaikhly armies. These men were accustomed to
mutual cooperation, and supplemented that operational
advantage through an intricate and effective system of
intelligence liaison. About forty percent of the
officers in the Abu Dhabi Defense Force, by far the most
powerful in the shaikhdoms, were British. The ADDF was
commanded by a seconded British officer, and the key
staff positions, operations and intelligence, were also
held by the British. The Trucial Oman Scouts had always
been British-officered, and nearly one hundred continued
to serve when the T.O.S. became the Union Defense Force
after independence. Dubai's Defense Force, also under
British command, had about ten British officers assigned.
Though none served in the armed forces of Sharjah or
Ras al Khaima, both those armies were committed to the
Union Defense Force in any major contingency and would
therefore come under British control.
Complementing the uniformed official pervasion,
the British expatriates who had headed the police forces
and vital Special Branches (police-intelligence) in the
shaikhdoms prior to withdrawal remained behind to provide
•continuity." 69 This residual military and civilian
Phillip Griffin, interview.
^^Michael Burrell, interview. _ 1
presence comprised in effect the "senior service" to
which General Willoughby had alluded in his 1968
article (see above page 149) .
Trucial Oman Scouts
Turning over the Trucial Oman Scouts did not
proceed as smoothly as had the more critical insertion
of British officials within the emirate security forces.
Essentially a mercenary constabulary, the transfer of
soldiers posed only mechanical problems. But there
were enough to cause a last-minute embarrassing delay.
An equitable gratuity had been paid to each man by the
TOS Commander-in-Chief, Sir Geoffry Arthur, who points
to a ninety percent re-enlistment rate into the Union
Defense Force as proof that "it wasn't too much and it
wasn't too low." /u Still the administrative shift of
military authority proved to be a more complicated
Under the British code of military justice,
discipline in the ranks of the TOS had been maintained
for nearly two decades. The Union of Arab Emirates,
however, lacked an Army Act to codify the rights and
responsibilities of the soldiers. When the British
Sir Geoffry Arthur, interview.
Gulf Political Residency on Bahrain drafted an appro- ~ ^
priate law for the U.A.E., the rulers refused to enact
it f pending confirmation by their Council of Ministers.
Sir Geoffry could not release his force without the
law. Once again British action would have to await an
Arab consensus, for at independence the ministries had
not been officially assigned. 71 As an interim measure,
the force was placed under a seconded British Colonel,
who headed the Union's Defense Committee. It took until
December 22, 1971, before the Political Resident was
able to hand over the Trucial Oman Scouts to the Union
President. This was fully three weeks after the
exchange of notes that ended the special treaty relation-
ship between the United Kingdom and the Trucial States. 7 -*
The Exchange of Notes
Those notes , individually signed and exchanged by
72 David Ledger, "Gulf Union," Middle East Inter-
national 9 (December 1971) : 6. Also the date was
supplied by Sir Geoffry Arthur, interview.
For text see, Great Britain, Foreign Office,
Exchange of Notes Concerning the Termination of Special
Treaty Relations Between the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland and the Trucial States
(Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Qaiwain, Ras
al Khaima and Fujairah ) , Treaty Series N. 34 (1972) ,
Cmd. 4941, 1 December 1971, pp. 20.
Sir Geoffry Arthur with each emir, terminated British
protection. It was considered "inconsistent with
membership in a Union which has full international
responsibility as a sovereign and independent State
. . . " 74 Together with the Treaty of Friendship that
was made the following day at Dubai between the United
Kingdom and the six member states (Ras al Khaima did not
join the Union until February 1972) of the United Arab
Emirates, Britain rescinded the Treaty system that had
prevailed for more than a century and a half.
This also capped a Foreign Office project
launched in August 1970. Every operative treaty and
protoc l between Her Majesty and the sh a ikhs had been
reviewed to assess what legal readjustments were necessi-
tated by their ending. Sovereign rights had been ceded
to Britain, and provisions were taken to bring future
governmental interactions into a more conventional
arrangement. Throughout the withdrawal period and even
beyond, various accords were reached for future
bilateral relations, ranging from overflight rights to
commercial affairs. These compacts actually replaced
74ibid., p. 3.
75 Anthony Reeve, interview.
the Treaty system that was ended in 1971.
The Treaty of Friendship pledged its signatories
to "a spirit of close friendship . . .." and a "common
interest in peace and stability of the region ..."
Mutual "consultation" in time of need was the sole
obligation either signatory incurred. In August 1971,
Bahrain was granted the treaty, after Shaikh Isa bin
Solman al-Khalifa declared his island fully indepen-
dent. The next month, Qatar predictably followed the
Bahraini lead, determined to "implement its full
authority externally as well as internally."^ Sir
William Luce revealed that the « six federated shaikhdoms
had to be restrained from formally emulating Qatar and
"Great Britain, Foreign Office, Treaty of
Friendship Between the United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland and the United Arab Emirates ,
Treaty Series No. 35 (1972) Cmd. 4937, 2 December 1971,
Isa bin Solman al-Khalifa, official statement
issued at Rifa Palace, Bahrain, 14 August 1971. In the
announcement, Shaikh Isa declared Bahrain's: "continued
readiness to join the Federation of Arab Emirates or the
new State of Arab Emirates as soon ... as its Govern-
ment is set up and its structure stands upon the sound
and constitutional bases and principles which the people
of this Arab area believe in . . . "
' ^Quoted from the Qatar Proclamation of Indepen-
dence, in the Times (London) (Special Report) , 5
September 1971, p. IV. See also Great Britain, Foreign
Office, Exchange of Notes Concerning the Termination of
Special Treaty Relations Between the United Kingdom of .
Bahrain too quickly. Had he not defused the islands
dispute first, the Shah would have wrecked any union
not under British protection. The Foreign Ministry
of the UAE confirms that in July 1971, the six had
reached agreement, having "fully realized the balance
of give and take in the Union." But they had not
been dealing with the Shah as had Luce.
The Arab readiness for independence, notwith-
standing, there were enough unresolved details from the
British perspective to forestall closure of the Gulf
Residency until March 26, 1972. No longer would that
office serve the British interest. The activities
described in the foregoing pages had been intended to
make it redundant.
Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the State of Qatar ,
Cmd. 4849, 3 September 1973.
^Sir William Luce, interview.
United Arab Emirates, Foreign Ministry, United
Arab Emirates , September 1972, p. 14.
°^Sir Geoffry Arthur, interview.
Securing British Interests
This thesis set out to determine how Great
Britain perceived, pursued and protected her interests
in the Persian Gulf after the 1968 decision to withdraw
all permanent British forces from the area by 1971. The
previous chapters described a transitional process. The
decision to withdraw, first taken by the Labor Govern-
ment and then reluctantly accepted by their Conservative
successors, actually preceded the formulation of a with-
drawal policy. That in turn emerged in much the same
way as had the Treaty System itself, in pragmatic
response to conditions confronted by men charged with
executing their Governments* decisions. Indeed, the
policy and process of withdrawal were inextricably inter-
woven as soldiers and statesmen sought to ensure an
abiding role in the Gulf for their country. In less
than four years , they moved their Government from the
status of protector to that of first among equals in the
international relationships of her former protectorates.
The Withdrawal Policy
What was Great Britain's preeminent policy objec-
tive during withdrawal? Historically British officials
concerned with the Persian Gulf had consistently sought
the same long-term goal, regional stability, though
their immediate interests varied widely. Original con-
cerns with maritime trade and imperial routes gave way
increasingly to a British industrial society's insatiable
thirst for the oil that was so plentiful along the
Persian Gulf. By 1973, Sir William Luce would say:
"Oil is what the Gulf is all about." This conception
dominated British Gulf policy through most of the
twentieth century. Her interest was oil, how best to
reach it, to profit from it, to control it. British
planners wrestled with the problem, seeking the equation
that would supply their answers. Oil was the constant
in all policy proposals , and the least common denomina-
tor of all the suggestions was stability. With it came
the physical security that was the essential precondition
for guaranteeing the free flow of Gulf oil for British
needs. Without it, the vulnerable petroleum
Sir William Luce, speech jiven before the
Middle East Institute Annual Conference of 1973, Wash-
ington, D.C., 28 September 1973.
installations and transport systems were not expected to'
survive let alone to profit. Oil-rich but economically
stagnant Iraq was easily cited as an all too proximate
example of the dangers inherent in political instability.
The Pax-Britannica had reigned in the Persian
Gulf for over 150 years and, with the coming of the oil
era, had been extended over the strip of land that lay
behind the coastal commercial enclaves. The stability
it brought was largely attributed to the continuing
presence of British naval and military forces, a factor
first introduced in quest of maritime peace. The 1968
decision to withdraw them was really taken for reasons —
economic, political and military — essentially out of the
context of the Persian Gulf (see Chapter One) . Yet
those arms had traditionally enforced the peace that
freed the oil; oil was a vital component of the British
economy. Whitehall, that is the men responsible for
executing the decision to end the Treaty System, recog-
nized the need for maintaining regional stability.
Therefore removing the British military forces required
some compensatory formula to achieve that goal be
devised. The practical policy that evolved aimed at
approximating the political status quo that prevailed
under the Treaty System, whereby Britain's position and
power could be sustained. '
The Pursuit of British Interest *
That policy was pursued (as described in
chapters two, three and four) between January 1968 and
December 1971. Whitehall attempted to establish a
milieu conducive to ongoing tranquility, based on three
pilllars. First, regional cooperation was to be encour-
aged by removing the tangible sources of Iranian and
Arabian resentment. Territorial conflicts demanded con-
sideration, as did prospective inter-governmental rela-
tions between the shaikhdoms and the other Gulf states.
Since the "special relationship" that encompassed the
nine emirates had excluded even local "foreign" powers,
normal diplomatic contacts never existed. Indeed,
British protection had blanketed several regional
differences and obviated the need to reach compromises .
Examples include Saudi Arabia's claim to Buraimi, Iraq's
to Kuwait, and Iran's to Bahrain. Such matters could
no longer be ignored.
The second policy pillar concerned the preparation
of the nine shaikhdoms for the projected new circumstan-
ces. The British protectorates were to be formed into a
viable polity, able to fully participate in Gulf politics
in such a way as to not rely on Great Britain's armed
There was also a third pillar on which the with-
drawal policy stood. Although inherent in the conduct
of international affairs by any state, it was uniquely
emphasized by Whitehall in this case. This was to
maximize British influence, not simply in conjunction
with the dual policy aims mentioned above, but, more
specifically, in the determination of the Gulf's politi-
cal direction following the exodus of British forces in
What had actually been accomplished between the
January 196 8 decision and Sir Geoffry Arthur's departure
from the Persian Gulf in 1972? The preceding chapters
limn the events, but their meaning is open to conjec-
ture. From the perspective of Sir William Luce,
Britain's withdrawal had been "reasonably successful."
As he saw it, she had retained access to and participa-
tion in the lucrative marketing of Gulf oil, and a
responsive security establishment remained to protect
that asset. Potentially debilitating international dis-
putes had been resolved or abated. Indigenous "stable
and progressive" Arab governments were left to rule the
shaikhdoms , as independent participants in the community ,
of nations. Great Britain had bequeathed stability in
her own interest, and to the mutual benefit of all the
peoples of the Gulf.
A radically different view, shared by many
Communist and Leftist writers, interprets the British
withdrawal differently. They hold that Whitehall had
sustained a three-tiered, neo-colonial strategy to:
1. produce puppet regimes backed by foreign-manned
2. guaranteed by the reactionary regional powers,
3. encircled by an outer ring of Anglo-American
Britain continued to "rule behind a facade of indepen-
dence," what one Soviet analyst termed a "pocket
empire , " from Oman .
A case can be made for both interpretations , given
^Fred Halliday, "Oil and the Revolution in the
Persian Gulf," Ramparts 9 (April 1971): 54.
G. Dynov, "Persian Gulf Countries at the Cross-
Roads," International Affairs (Moscow) (March 1973):
their respective political points of departure. Recog-
nizing that, this assessment will indulge neither the
apologists nor the polemicists, but will address the
question, how well did Whitehall's efforts serve the
withdrawal policy objective, stability in the Persian
The three-pillar withdrawal policy described
above was only partially successful. Major Arab-Iranian
disputes over Bahrain and Abu Musa were effectively
negotiated if not wholly resolved, but the forceful
Iranian occupation of the Tunbs islands represented a
shortcoming of British diplomacy that had dangerous
Inter-Arab cooperation had been facilitated by
the British, as shown by the joint Saudi and Kuwaiti
response to the withdrawal. That had been coordinated
with Whitehall's attempts to assist the Gulf emirs in
adapting to the new situation. The deposition of the
Omani Sultan might also be included among Britain's
positive contributions toward the long-term regional
stability. Yet these cannot obscure the failures. The
inability to accomodate all sides in the Buraimi issue
belied ominous inter-Arab discord, and cast a long
shadow over the newly independent shaikhdoms . It .
blocked Riyad's diplomatic recognition of the Union of
Arab Emirates, and diverted the federation's limited
human resources to a hopeless military purpose.
Nor was the creation of a political structure that
could adequately rule and represent the ex-Protectorates,
Britain's second policy pillar, fully accomplished. The
formal transition from the Treaty System to normalized
international relations between London and the shaikhdoms
was substantially completed. Only certain technical
rearrangements were carried over into 1975. Legally,
Her Majesty's jurisdiction was retroceded in due course.
The problem posed by Qatar's early independence was more
clerical than judicial, and was expeditiously handled by
all concerned. The exchange of minor, functional respon-
sibilities went less smoothly, but was effected well in
advance of the administrative deadline.
Beyond that formal transition, Great Britain's
role in the transfer of political power to the shaikhdoms
was ambiguous. Officially, the Government applauded the
Arab initiatives toward consolidating their position
but, in practice, British withdrawal policy became en-
meshed in her own domestic politics. The Labor Govern-
ment's volte face in announcing the 1968 decision,
coupled with the Conservative Party's proclaimed .
intention to reverse the withdrawal, virtually neutrali- ~ '
zed Whitehall's support for the union. The original
discreet distance British diplomats kept from the
budding federation was misinterpreted by the rulers as
disinterest and, when more active British participation
did come, it came too late. Predictably, the -nine
disparate shaikhdoms fell short of the ideal union so
ardently desired by their fellow Arabs.
They emerged instead in 1971 as three separate
states. Their leaders were only marginally cooperative,
with populations whose greatest similarity lay in their
diversity. Wasteful duplication of prestige develop-
mental projects marked the waning years of Britain's
"special relationship," and minimal economic integration
remained a goal long after the British departure from
the Gulf. The decline of Great Britain's intercession-
ary power in the shaikhdoms was shown clearly as she
lost her dominant trade position. Even prior to 1968,
this was being eroded by European and Japanese entrepre-
neurs. By 1971, those advantages Britain retained were
less a function of Whitehall's perspicacity than of the
individual acumen of British businessmen.
Since stability had been the fundamental objec-
tive, it is not surprising that Britain's most notable
legacy would lie in the field df defense. Securing
what political institutions evolved during withdrawal
would both maintain a semblance of the previous regional
configuration and provide the means for perpetuating
British influence in the Gulf. Although General
Willoughby's masterplan for a single union defense
force had been rejected by the rulers, a crude integra-
tion 1 of the various shaikhly guards under the former
Trucial Oman Scouts was postulated in post-withdrawal
contingency plans. Bahrain and Qatar formed independent,
well-equipped fighting units under British tutelage,
while seconded and contract British officers permeated
the command structure of the United Arab Emirate defense
These military officials were complemented by
their civilian countrymen, who served in highly respon-
sible police and counter-intelligence capacities. This
variation of the British presence injected command co-
ordination, intelligence liaison and a uniform military
approach across the spectrum of shaikhly differences,
jealousies and suspicions. Their familiarity with and
bias toward British-manufactured equipment also
facilitated the sizeable arms sales that further
increased Britain's leverage in the security realm. ,
Most relevant was the placement of personnel
within the security establishment. Their influence on
the rulers, and their expertise applied against the
forces threatening Gulf stability, combined to create a
credible alternative to Britain's military forces in
the area. Whitehall maintained control of security
policy, retaining as many British links as possible,
commensurate with the altered international status of
the shaikhdoms. This does not belie any insidious
British ploy, for from both Whitehall's perspective and
implicit in the rulers* acceptance of the arrangement,
the oft-stated goal of peace in the Gulf was being
The Final Score
How well did Britain's withdrawal policy and
process serve her national interests after 1971? Since
concern for petroleum was central , it needs to be asked
to what degree the product of the withdrawal years met
the problem. Certainly, in the immediate aftermath, the
oil continued to flow. But, before a sufficient time
elapsed to properly evaluate the system Britain be-
queathed, the new international relationship was over-
taken by events. In 1973, the combined effects of the
world energy crisis and the Arab oil embargo pushed ~~!
Great Britain to the brink of economic disaster, while
powerful if subtle encroachments on the regional politi-
cal arrangements eroded the tenuous power-base of the
security establishment. Could there have been an
alternative Gulf policy in the year 1968 through 1971
that might have avoided this? The answer must be an
unequivocal no. Far from a failure of diplomacy, the
Gulf had been caught up in the dynamics of transcendent
consumer-producer state relationships.
Yet out of this there comes one final question,
the answer to which exceeds the scope of this paper.
Had colonial policies, not only in the Gulf but wherever
Western society interacted with less economically
developed peoples, been based more on humanity than
expediency, could the present international polarization
have been averted? Is this the price for failing to
impart the elements of progress and modernity in lieu
of imposing the force of arms to ensure stability?
This observation is not intended to be critical
of British efforts expended between 1968 and 1971. In
fact, given the limited time available to formally con-
clude the Treaty System, the magnitude of the regional
political adjustment that was required and the
complicating extrinsic factors that applied, Whitehall' s~l
accomplishment was remarkable. British diplomats per-
formed in the vortex of Gulf politics, within range of
Soviet cruisers and Mao's thoughts, implementing a pro-
found decision that had been taken out of the local
context. That they succeeded as well as has been
described testifies to their professionalism.
Arthur, Sir Geoffry. Diplomat. Under-Secretary for
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> " ~l
Le Monde (Paris), 31 May 1971-20 July 1967.
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— 1:80 -
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Great Britain's with
drawa? f r0m the Pg W h "
Gu»f ? 968-, 971: an S n a a n ? ,
I 5 '* of the policy and
e-- 5 fr ft . i
Great Britain's with-
drawal from the Persian
Gulf I968-1971: an Anal-
ysis of the policy and
G mmm,' ]tam ' S withdra wal from the Pers
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